It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over – When Heavyweights Fight Back
It was Round 7 and unbeaten WBC titleholder Deontay Wilder looked like Bambi on ice skates.
After being knocked down himself in the fifth, top-rated contender Luis Ortiz was now smashing Wilder around the skull and mid-section with blow after blow. A whipping counter right hook out of the southpaw stance started the onslaught and from there, Wilder absorbed the beating of a lifetime for the best part of a minute.
When the bell brought an end to that pulverizing session, I sent RING Magazine editor-in-chief Doug Fischer a message: “This is over!”
But it wasn’t. A brief interruption by the ringside doctor – when the bell had already sounded for Round 8 – coupled with Wilder’s warrior instincts and Ortiz’s slow feet gave the defending titleholder exactly what was needed – time.
Wilder’s stilt-like legs recovered, Ortiz’s tank was empty and fight fans were in for one major turnaround. After surviving the eighth, Wilder broke through with a crushing right hand in Round 9. A follow-up attack forced the Cuban lefty to his knees and the crowd at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn exploded.
Now it was Ortiz who needed time – and he wasn’t going to get it.
Wilder finished the job with his signature sweeping hooks and secured the finest triumph of his career to date. It was a fantastic comeback performance and the American puncher’s stock has risen dramatically.
If Wilder let himself down at all, it was during his post-fight interview when he denied being hurt in the seventh round. All I can is, with this being Oscar season, “The Bronze Bomber” should have been up for the Best Actor award.
Anyway, now would seem like an appropriate time to look back on a few of heavyweight championship boxing’s greatest comebacks. Nobody is comparing, this is merely for nostalgia purposes:
Joe Louis KO11 Jersey Joe Walcott
Date/ Location: June 25, 1948/ Yankee Stadium, New York.
The great Louis had retained his heavyweight championship for the 24th time when he scored a highly controversial 15-round split decision over Walcott in December 1947. The champion was decked twice and out boxed for large portions of that contest, but scoring on a rounds basis and an iconic reputation got “The Brown Bomber” over the line. His pride damaged, Louis agreed to an immediate rematch and, again, Walcott fought brilliantly. Louis was floored by a sharp right-hand counter in the third and was behind on two of three scorecards entering the 11th. Suddenly, Walcott, prone to showboating, dropped his hands and offered a target. That was tantamount to suicide. Louis measured his man and crossed over a crushing right to the jaw. Walcott, his legs stiffened, sought refuge on the ropes but there was no hiding place. Louis pursued and battered the challenger without mercy until he went down. Walcott, on all fours, stared at the canvas and shook his head in an effort to clear the cobwebs, but he was finished. Louis had come from behind to claim his 25th successful title defense – a record which remains unmatched in any division.
Rocky Marciano KO13 Jersey Joe Walcott
Date/ Location: Sept. 23, 1952/ Municipal Stadium, Philadelphia.
Following his two fights with Louis, the crafty Walcott entered a four-fight series with “The Cincinnati Cobra”, Ezzard Charles. When the dust had settled, Walcott, at 37 years of age, was the oldest heavyweight champion in history and Rocky Marciano was his No. 1 challenger. This was a classic battle of styles, pitting the sophistication and finesse of Walcott against the brute strength and hitting power of Marciano. In the opening round, Walcott found the target with alarming regularity and floored “The Rock” with a perfect left hook. Slowly, however, the challenger’s superior endurance and fighting heart became factors. In the middle rounds, Walcott was cut around the left eye, a wound which was opened during some fierce inside exchanges. The veteran champion was still banking rounds, but he was being made to work extremely hard. Entering the 13th round, Marciano was behind on all three cards and needed something spectacular. He found it. As Walcott backed into the ropes, Marciano pursued with purpose. Both men went for big rights hands, but the challenger turned his shot over quicker. The punch was short, explosive and pinpoint accurate. A jolting left hook as Walcott dissembled was mere window dressing. Marciano would make six title defenses in three years and retire as the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world.
Muhammad Ali KO8 George Foreman
Date/ Location: Oct. 30, 1974/ 20th May Stadium, Kinshasa.
When you watch “The Rumble in the Jungle” today, you already know the Hollywood ending. Just imagine being in that colossal soccer stadium in the heart of Africa, or at a closed-circuit location, when this superfight reached its climax. Despite putting weight behind his renowned sharp-shooting, Ali, the former heavyweight champion, took a ferocious body beating from Foreman in the early sessions. Many ringsiders were watching the action through their fingers as the monstrous champion, who had smashed both Joe Frazier and Ken Norton to second-round defeat, teed off on Ali without mercy. However, as the rounds passed, Foreman slowed and the challenger began answering back more regularly. Entering Round 8, Foreman, as Ali’s trainer Angelo Dundee once said, was so fatigued that he appeared to be “sleepwalking”. Ali could time three minutes in his head and it’s no coincidence that arguably the greatest heavyweight of all time waited until there were just a few seconds left in the eighth before launching a stunning combination, punctuated by a right hand. Foreman spun to the canvas and was counted out by referee Zack Clayton. Ali, who had become only the second man in history to regain the title, secured his legacy with an almost mystical showing.
Larry Holmes TKO11 Earnie Shavers
Date/ Location: Sept. 28, 1979/ Caesars Palace, Las Vegas.
When he was a prospect, Larry Holmes was one of a select few with the bravery to spar feared power-puncher Earnie Shavers wearing 20oz gloves. In March 1978, Holmes, now a contender, outboxed his former employer over 12 rounds and claimed a one-sided decision. However, in their rematch, Shavers decked Holmes, who was now WBC champion, with a right hand. But this wasn’t just any right hand, this was pure evil in a boxing glove. Holmes went down as though the devil himself was pulling him into hell by the neck. But, unfortunately for Shavers, the impact of Holmes hitting the canvas had woken him up. Possessor of arguably the greatest recuperative powers in the history of the division, Holmes’ survival instincts now kicked in. Despite barely knowing where he was, the champion found his feet, ducked for cover, tied Shavers up and flashed out a long jab. The bell rang to end the round and Shavers wore the look of a man who had won the lottery but lost the ticket. Holmes could do a lot of recovering in 60 seconds and so it proved. The champion handed out a frightful beating for the remainder of the contest, prompting referee Davey Pearl to stop the slaughter when Shavers was unable to respond to an array of blistering head shots.
George Foreman KO10 Michael Moorer
Date/ Location: Nov. 5, 1994/ MGM Grand, Las Vegas.
When George Foreman returned to the ring following a 10-year layoff at the age of 38, he was wide open to ridicule. Despite a string of victories over hapless competition, the theory was that “The Punching Preacher” would be found out as soon as he fought a viable heavyweight. However, the hard-punching Gerry Cooney was annihilated in two rounds and Foreman gave reigning heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield a real fight in April 1991. A decision defeat to Tommy Morrison could have been the end, but suddenly Foreman was offered an olive branch. Unbeaten southpaw Michael Moorer dethroned Holyfield in April 1994 and was looking to cash in. Who better to box than an ancient former champ with a gift for salesmanship? Moorer won round after round, popping Foreman at will with the right jab and lacing the target with a variety of accurate combinations. The challenger could barely get off, but not once did he stop looking for the knockout. Foreman’s persistence paid off in the 10th when Moorer made the mistake of holding his feet. A one-two combination dazed the champion for a split-second and then the same combination put him out like a candle. Foreman had eclipsed Walcott’s record, regaining the title at the age of 45. Yes, “It happened!”
Honorable Mentions: Joe Louis KO13 Billy Conn, Rocky Marciano KO8 Ezzard Charles, Mike Weaver KO15 John Tate, Evander Holyfield TKO7 Bert Cooper, Anthony Joshua TKO11 Wladimir Klitschko.
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for THE RING. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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