In light of Anthony Joshua attempting to regain his world titles from Andy Ruiz Jr next week, Derek Bonnett recalls 10 big upsets and the results of the subsequent returns
Boxing themes are as engaging as those written down by William Shakespeare centuries ago. Similar to The Bard’s work for the stage, boxing’s greatest motifs endure and continue to entice fans. The ideas of affirmation and redemption are also common concepts often intertwined between the two mediums. Shakespeare wrote for the theatre, whilst boxing has always been the Theatre of the Unexpected, conjuring its own forms of drama. The two players taking centre stage in the highly anticipated December 7 heavyweight championship rematch are Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr. The question on the boxing world’s mind just happens to be affirmation or redemption, repeat or revenge, if you will.
Joshua, the recently vanquished heavyweight champion, may view his June 1 KO defeat to Andy Ruiz as pure tragedy. For Joshua, after suffering four knockdowns, there would be no happy ending that evening and his own human flaws could be to blame for his humbling fate against a late underdog substitute. Ruiz, the newly crowned champion, perhaps sees June 1 as a test of will as he rose from the canvas once himself, but the result produced pure comedy and all the feasts and good cheer fell his way. For Ruiz, his jubilation transpired because of his superior hand skills and desire to ensure that his family would no longer struggle.
In Joshua, 30, we see a sculpted Adonis, who may have realized his appearance has won him few rounds in the professional ranks. Joshua has hinted at focusing on basics and reports have shown a leaner former champion. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ruiz, 30, is soft-bodied and full of paunch. Yet, he promises to be more fit for the rematch, to be a fighter that embodies the look of a champion. Both are gifted in terms of athleticism, but the vessels operate very differently.
There are no substitutes this time. Both fighters have prepared with their mind on a single fighter and style from training day one. Joshua’s naysayers forget he was off the floor once against Wladimir Klitschko in a genuine heavyweight shootout and he came out on top. His character was on display immediately following his humbling defeat and that same character will guarantee only the best version of Anthony Joshua will enter the ring in Saudi Arabia. The pressure is on to prove himself the better man. Although Ruiz is not without pressure himself. On December 7, he enters the ring for the first time as heavyweight champion. The onus is on him to prove to the world his victory was no fluke nor that he was simply the benefactor of Jarrell Miller’s failed drug test.
Repeat or Revenge? Will conventional wisdom prevail or will boxing continue to be that Theatre of the Unexpected? To find the answer to that we now turn to boxing’s past upsets and their immediate rematches, starting in the heavyweight division and then branching outward.
Floyd Patterson vs Ingemar Johansson
Floyd Patterson, the first man to recapture the heavyweight title, will forever be connected with Ingemar Johansson. In June of 1959, Patterson put his title on the line against the heavy-handed Swede and found himself down seven times in the third round in spite of being a 5-1 on favorite. Johansson’s right hand was his money-maker and it made him plenty. However, it was not good enough to keep the title after a leaping left hook by Patterson in the fifth round of the rematch nearly a year later. For Patterson, the rematch meant revenge and he repeated the feat nine months later in 1961 to end a trilogy with Johansson. Patterson’s tragic flaw was his chin, but he learned to overcome it.
Muhammad Ali vs Leon Spinks
The Greatest, Muhammad Ali himself, was no stranger to rematches. After defeating Earnie Shavers, Ali opted to meet 1976 Olympic gold medalist Leon Spinks before a possible fourth bout with Ken Norton. Funny how boxing works when you plan ahead. Instead of adding the former Olympian to his résumé, Ali, a 10-1 on favorite, lost a split verdict to Spinks in February 1978. The defeat gave Ali the opportunity to become the first three-time heavyweight champion seven months later. This time only a marginal favorite, Ali won a comfortable decision in the September rematch to gain a measure of revenge.
Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield
A clash between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield had been brewing since the late 1980s. However, circumstance and the court of law delayed such a match-up until late 1996. A post-prison Tyson was still favoured over Holyfield, who had the taste of defeat still on his palate following exhausting losses to Michael Moorer and Riddick Bowe. In a bout billed as “Finally”, Holyfield quickly dispelled the belief he was a fighter in decline and chipped away at Tyson’s bad-boy mantle to break the champion’s mental spirit. Tyson blamed headbutts, which there were, but Holyfield, the ‘unmovable object’, proved to be better than the ‘irresistible force’ in this outing. Mid-way through 1997, the two met again in “The Sound and the Fury” in one of the most infamous boxing matches of all-time due to ‘The Bite’. The bite was actually ‘bites’ as Tyson, already befuddled and cut by round three, resorted to gnawing Holyfield’s ears in retaliation. Many saw the act as one of desperation for Tyson to get out of the fight after realising early on that he could not win. For Holyfield, rematch meant repeat because he was the mentally tougher fighter of the two and made it so Tyson would unravel.
Lennox Lewis vs Hasim Rahman
Lennox Lewis only knows defeat by upset. Oliver McCall stopped him in two rounds in 1994, but the two waited three years to rematch and there was a whole lot going on with McCall at the time. However, Lewis’ second defeat came in April 2001 when he met Hasim Rahman, a prohibitive 20-1 underdog, in South Africa. Lewis came in at a then-career-high 253 1/2lbs and fought disinterestedly against Rahman, who he expected to fold as he had against David Tua and Oleg Maskaev. Instead, Rahman flipped the script with a right hand as Lewis pulled back lazily in round five. The rematch was held in November the same year. “Final Judgement” it was called, but the verdict came down on Rahman hard. Lewis came in seven pounds lighter as a challenger. Rahman shed two pound from the first fight, but the rematch was all Lewis. In one of the most picturesque knockouts in heavyweight history, Lewis levelled the champion with a quick one-two. Rahman spread out on the canvas, arms as if on a cross, perfectly placed inside the Don King Promotions logo was an image of sweet revenge for Lewis. He would remain unbeaten for the rest of his career.
Heavyweights are not the only boxers susceptible to upset or the need to rematch. The following are some very recent examples of repeat and revenge from light-heavyweight down to super-flyweight.
Alberto Machado vs Andrew Cancio
in February, Cancio took on unbeaten Puerto Rican Alberto Machado who was making the third defence of his 130lb belt following three excellent victories. Cancio, on the other hand, had admittedly become a part-time fighter looking at the real possibility of impending retirement. Cancio’s defeats and struggles with fellow contenders had him doubting the future, while Machado was looking at a sure thing. Cancio went down in the first round according to plans, but he rose to give it one last go and turned things around with a vicious body attack. After dropping the champion three times in the fourth, Cancio put thoughts of his exit plan to the side and prepared for the rematch four months later. Machado did not learn from their first fight and this time it only took one body shot in the third. Cancio repeated his victory, but his story doesn’t end there. Prior to winning the belt, he was a slight underdog, who rallied to beat Rene Alvarado in eight rounds. On November 23, Cancio rematched Alvarado almost four years later. This time the shoe was on the other foot and Alvarado got his revenge over Cancio after dominating him for a seventh-round stoppage in the corner.
Kerman Lejarraga vs David Avanesyan
David Avanesyan had been a steady welterweight with a victory over a badly worn Shane Mosley highlighting his dossier. Even a faded Lamont Peterson was able to outpoint him. Avanesyan had recently fallen to prospect Egidijus Kavaliauskas in six rounds, leaving him a clear underdog to Spanish wrecking ball and European champion Kerman Lejarraga in March this year. Avanesyan turned his experience to good use and stood up to the “Revolver”, as Lejarraga is known. He used the ropes and trunk movement to allow the Spaniard to punch himself out before stepping on the gas for a ninth-round TKO. The rematch came six months later. This time, Avanesyan did the opposite; he started quickly and blew Lejarraga out in the first round after two knockdowns. His repeat victory won’t shake underdog status permanently, but he may not be taken so lightly down the road.
Isaac Dogboe vs Emmanuel Navarette
Isaac Dogboe was building himself a nice following after dispatching tough guy Cesar Juarez and breaking down the stylish Jessie Magdaleno to become a belt-holder at 122lbs. Dogboe would meet Emmanuel Navarette in December 2018 in his second defence following a one-round blowout of Hidenori Otake. While the Mexican’s résumé was handsome superficially it lacked the character of Dogboe’s. Regardless, the Ghanaian titlist was in deeper than ever before and after 12 nip-and-tuck rounds, the underdog walked away with the belt. The two met five months later this past May. It was a different fight, but the result was crystal clear as Navarette dropped Dogboe in the sixth round before the challenger’s corner threw in the towel. Repeat was so sweet for Navarette, who has become one of boxing’s busiest champions and eyes his fourth bout of the year next month.
Ryuto Murata vs Rob Brant
Japan’s Ryota Murata may not be considered the best in the middleweight division, but he was a decided favorite to beat Rob Brant when they met in October 2018. Murata returned to Las Vegas to showcase his talents, but instead got schooled by the swifter and busier American. Murata looked like a huge investment gone bust, but looked for a return bout once he returned to the ring and got it nine months later. Brant travelled to Japan this past July for a nice payday, but the result would not be so satisfying as Murata gave away the first to the speedier champion, but brutalised him in the second with one of the most fiercely sustained two-fisted attacks of the year. Brant rose from one knockdown, but was stumbling all over the ring for the remainder of the round before he was saved. Murata earned his revenge big time and may need to consider more faster starts down the line.
Sergey Kovalev vs Eleider Alvarez
Sergey Kovalev had rebounded from his second loss to Andre Ward with a pair of wins that put him back in the driver’s seat at 175lbs. He took on Eleider Alvarez in September of 2018 giving the Colombian a long overdue shot at the title which Adonis Stevenson would not grant him. Kovalev boxed well until round seven when a right hand put the champion on his trunks. The challenger produced two more knockdowns to take the title on that night. In February of this year, Kovalev jumped right into a rematch with Alvarez, much to the chagrin of many. Yet, the seemingly spent former champion faced the “Storm” and used long punches to dictate the distance while coming forward. In producing his best ‘boxing’ performance since defeating Bernard Hopkins, and under new trainer Buddy McGirt, Kovalev gained his revenge and reclaimed his belt.
Roman Gonzalez vs Srisaket Rungvisai
In March of 2017, Roman Gonzalez returned to Madison Square Garden for a huge super-flyweight showdown with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai. Gonzalez was making his first defense after a bruising win over Carlos Cuadras. After a first-round knockdown against Gonzalez, the Nicaraguan and Thai boxers went to war in a never-say-die battle of trying to land the final punch in each exchange. Rungvisai’s power was considerable. Nevertheless, the battle was nip and tuck with many observers split over the final verdict. However, Rungvisai took the title home via majority decision. Six months later, the dynamic duo did it again, but produced a far different affair. Gonzalez appeared fragile from the opening bell while Rungvisai looked like a 115lb King Kong. After two knockdowns in round four, Gonzalez was spent and Rungvisai repeated his victory in stellar fashion.
There’s no formula to predict the outcome of these return bouts with any clarity. For every Simon Brown, there’s a Terry Norris waiting to reverse the outcome. Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr have commanded the attention of the boxing world with one of the most thrilling bouts of the year already. Can the rematch be even better? It all depends on what you’re looking for as a fan.