Tyson-Lewis, Floyd-Pacquiao And The Fights That Came Too Late

'Better late than never' does not always apply to the sport of boxing.
13:00, 27 Nov 2021

Reports suggest that British boxing stars Amir Khan and Kell Brook are once again targeting a fight against each other. At one stage such a fight was one of the most intriguing you could have put on in a British ring. In the mid-2010s, Brook reigned as IBF welterweight king, while Khan stepped up into the same division and made a splash with big wins over former champions Luis Collazo, Julio Diaz and Devon Alexander. The pair seemed primed for a lucrative title showdown, but despite each man trash-talking the other, political machinations and typical boxing nonsense precluded it.

Instead, each man attempted to scale insurmountable heights. Khan mystifyingly moved up two divisions to challenge Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, getting blasted out in six rounds. Brook learned nothing from his rival, making the same divisional jump only to get squashed by Gennady Golovkin in five rounds. Neither were the same fighter after those twin-batterings. Brook lost two of his next five and was last seen getting knocked out by Terence Crawford in 2020. Khan had his own reckoning against the same foe, being stopped by ‘Bud’ in 2019, one of only four fights he’d had in the last five years. Khan and Brook have been shown to be yesterday’s men, and their potential contest now feels more like a bizarre curio than a meeting of world class fighters.

Khan and Brook are far from the only fighters to procrastinate too long over delivering a dream fight. Here are some other examples of potentially great fights that happened when they were past their sell-by date.

Larry Holmes vs Muhammad Ali, 1980

One of the saddest spectacles ever witnessed in this often-cruel sport, even Holmes himself looked reluctant to watch a barely-mobile Ali succumb to his punches. ‘

Ali retired after beating WBA champion Leon Spinks in their rematch, and had been out of the ring for two years before this bout. A unification clash with Holmes in 1978 would surely have played out much differently than this horrible encounter. In beating Spinks and claiming a record-breaking third heavyweight championship, ‘The Greatest’ showed ring savvy and timing that would be long-gone after he returned from his two-year lay-off. Putting Ali vs Holmes on in 1978 would have been a fight. Putting it on in 1980 was a massacre.

Lennox Lewis vs Mike Tyson, 2002

The most hyped fight in history at the time, Lennox Lewis’ defence of the heavyweight championship against ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson had everything. There was the electric press conference where Tyson bit the champion’s leg, the separate ring announcers for each man, and a line of police that famously stood between them during the introductions. 

What it didn’t have was evenly-matched combatants. Since his two-year suspension for biting Evander Holyfield’s ear in 1997, ‘Iron’ Mike had gone 4-0 with two no-contests against pretty meek opposition, flattering to deceive with knockouts that showed little of his previous verve and skill. It was approaching a decade since he had looked like a world class fighter.

Unfortunately for the challenger, a world class fighter is exactly what he was in with. Tyson managed an energetic first round before being expertly broken-down by Lewis. The British boxer thudded away with his jab before carving his smaller foe up with hooks and uppercuts. Lewis lowered the boom in the eighth round, knocking Tyson out for a signature victory.

The fight had previously been mooted in 1995, when a post-prison Tyson paid Lewis $4 million dollars to step aside as WBC number one contender and allow him to fight a unification bout with Bruce Seldon for the WBA title. After destroying Seldon, ‘Iron’ Mike still did not fancy the Lewis clash, and instead relinquished his championship.

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Roy Jones Jr vs Felix Trinidad, 2008

Both of the Hall of Fame fighters had seen better days by the time their 2008 catchweight clash rolled around. The two combatants would both be in with a shout of winning Fighter Of The 90s, but the 21st century had been less kind to these former champions.

Trinidad’s slide began when he was stopped by Bernard Hopkins in 2001, and the Puerto Rican hero retired after a lop-sided 2005 defeat to Ronald ‘Winky’ Wright before agreeing to return for this match. Jones had become the first former middleweight champion to win a heavyweight championship in 106 years, but had lost three of his next four after that history-making night.

Activity ended up making the difference, as Jones had a minor revival against low-quality opposition while Trinidad was retired from the sport. The agreed fighting weight was also ten pounds above the highest ‘Tito’ had ever fought at. Unlike some of the other fights listed, this was a largely entertaining affair. Perhaps the upshot of both fighters being passed their best, an enjoyable contest unfolded with Jones winning via unanimous decision.

Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao, 2015

The constantly-unfolding drama surrounding this clash ended up being more exciting than the fight. There were nearly seven years of call-outs, accusations, insults and a crusade by Floyd to get Pacquiao drug-tested before the pair eventually met in the ring.

In the meantime, Pacquiao lost consecutive fights to Juan Manuel Marquez and Timothy Bradley. These defeats took some of the gloss off a Mayweather fight, as it no longer represented a battle of the two pound-for-pound best fighters on the planet. For his part, Floyd was only fighting once a year at this point, and the fight started to look like a meeting of two of yesterday’s men.

Of course, the two did eventually make it into a prize ring. The bout broke a number of box office records, and was incredibly hyped at the time. But after watching Mayweather ease to a decision win in safety-first fashion, you couldn’t shake the sense the fight would have been a lot more fun at Pacquiao’s savage peak.

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