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The 5 Greatest Heavyweight Comebacks: #5

by Jason Doherty

March proved to be a massive month for heavyweight boxing, with Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua coming through in their respective title matches, hopefully setting up a bout to crown the undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the World. The boxing world now awaits the comeback of Tyson Fury, the former WBA, IBF and WBO champion who lost none of his titles in the ring.

The long and glorious history of heavyweight boxing has seen numerous comebacks from former champions. For some fighters, the fame and all else that goes with being the Heavyweight Champion of the World can be just too much to give up, other boxers have returned because they feel they have a point to prove against the man who took their titles without ever facing them in the ring, while a lot of guys come back simply in need of one last pay day. Nevertheless, such comebacks have normally attracted great attention from the fans and media alike, all playing a massive part in turning the heavyweight crown into the most prestigious title in sport.

It’s time for a trip down memory lane, as we rank the five most memorable comebacks made by former Heavyweight Champions in the history of boxing.

5. Larry Holmes (1988-2002)

Arguably one of the top 10 heavyweights to have ever laced gloves, Larry Holmes successfully defended a version of the world title 19 times, between 1978 and 1985. Incredibly light on his feet for a heavyweight, the “Easton Assassin” is remembered for his excellent technical ability, coupled with one of the best jabs in the history of the sport.

Holmes went undefeated for 48 fights during the first part of his career, before losing the IBF title to Michael Spinks in what was an attempt to equal Rocky Marciano’s unbeaten record. Holmes left a sour taste in the mouth of a large portion of the boxing public,with his comments in the wake of the loss that, “Rocky Marciano couldn’t carry my jock strap.” After losing the rematch to Spinks, by way of a hotly disputed split decision, Holmes walked away from the sport in 1986 aged 36.

In Holmes’ absence, one Mike Tyson was able to become the youngest heavyweight champion in the history of boxing, and the first man to hold the WBC, WBA and IBF titles simultaneously. With the young champion knocking out challengers for fun, Don King set about making the “Dream Match,” between Tyson and the former titleholder, Holmes.

Though at first reluctant when propositioned by King, the lure of a $3 million pay day proved too much for Holmes to turn down, and after two years out of the ring, the former champion returned to face Tyson in January 1988. Looking flabby and flatfooted, it was clear from the opening bell that the former champion was only a shadow of the fighter he once was, with Tyson dispatching of  the 38 year old within four rounds, handing Holmes the only KO loss of his career.

Though Holmes announced his retirement immediately after the loss to Tyson, he returned to the ring in 1991, fighting regularly until 2002. Although the majority of Holmes’ victories during this period came over mid level opposition, he  did manage a memorable victory over former WBO champion, Ray Mercer, and would also challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship on two more occasions, losing unanimously to both Evander Holyfield and Oliver McCall, in 1992 and 1995 respectively. Holmes eventually retired at the age of 52, after a unanimous 10 round victory over Eric “Butterbean” Esch, with a record of 69 wins, 6 losses.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of Holmes’ comeback, was the that it finally allowed him to endear himself to the boxing public. Holmes was unfortunate in that his title reign came directly after Muhammad Ali had retired as champion. Even in retirement, Ali cast a very large shadow, and one which his old sparring partner struggled to emerge from. Holmes was simply unable to fill the void left by Ali, as if any fighter could have, and often conveyed a sense of under appreciation as a result.

The chip on Holmes’ shoulder seemed to disappear during the second part of his career, with the former champion portraying a much happier figure. The retired Holmes is now a real fan favourite amongst hardcore followers of the sweet science.

This post first appeared on Jason’s blog:


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