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When heavyweights fight back – Can Anthony Joshua rebuild following first professional loss?

Photo by Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing

It must be the worst feeling.

Unlike some team sports when you’re back out the following week, a vanquished superstar fighter must wait months to claim revenge. And with boxing today, social media has made an expert out of everyone: “I told you this was coming”, “His previous opponents were all rubbish”, “He always was a fraud!” A beaten fighter is forced to swallow that kind of feedback daily, that’s just life in the spotlight.

In the wake of Anthony Joshua’s stunning seventh-round stoppage defeat to Andy Ruiz Jr. there has been a tidal wave of rumor and opinion. As well the Monday morning quarterbacks telling everyone that the colossal Brit was never that good in the first place, there’s also talk that Joshua was knocked out in sparring and that he’d had a panic attack before leaving the dressing room at MSG.

In truth, none of the matters now, because the book says Andy Ruiz Jr. TKO 7 Anthony Joshua.

On June 1, 2019 the former Olympic champion from London was floored four times and had the fight beaten out of him. The objective now for Joshua and his team is to claim revenge and reestablish himself in the glamour division. Several great heavyweights have lost their unbeaten records in humiliating fashion. Others have lost their “0” in fights that are remembered as fondly as their greatest victories.

So what lies ahead for Joshua? Here we look back at the first loss for 12 well-known heavyweights and rate their comeback performance. Not all of these stories have happy ending but some are shrouded in glory:

Max Schmeling KO 12 Joe Louis
Date/ Location: June 19, 1936/ Yankee Stadium, New York
Loser’s record before fight: 24-0 (20 KOs)

Following his crushing knockout loss at the hands of Schmeling, Louis rebounded with seven straight wins (six by knockout) inside a single year. “The Brown Bomber” would then challenge James Braddock for the championship on June 22, 1937 and got off the canvas to secure an eighth-round knockout. Louis made 25 straight defenses, including a first-round revenge win over Schmeling, and is remembered by many as the greatest heavyweight champion ever.

Comeback rating: 10/10

Floyd Patterson. Photo from The Ring archive

Floyd Patterson KO 5 Ingemar Johansson
Date/ Location: June 20, 1960/ Polo Grounds, New York
Loser’s record before fight: 22-0 (14 KOs)

Johannson had scored a sensational third-round stoppage of Patterson one year earlier, knocking him down seven times to claim the title. The following year, the hard-hitting Swede was brutally knocked out in the return, and Patterson’s dominance was secured with a stoppage in the rubber match. From there, Johannson won four consecutive fights at European level and retired from the sport in 1963.

Comeback rating: 4/10

Joe Frazier UD 15 Muhammad Ali
Date/ Location: March 8, 1971/ Madison Square Garden, New York
Loser’s record before fight: 31-0 (25 KOs)

Ali lost his unbeaten record in one of the finest fights in boxing history. “The Greatest” got back on the horse quickly, winning 13 of 14 fights and beating every man he faced over a three and a half year period. In October 1974, Ali regained the heavyweight championship of the world with an incredible eighth-round knockout of George Foreman. There were more glory than you could shake a stick at.

Comeback rating: 10/10

George Foreman TKO 2 Joe Frazier
Date/ Location: Jan. 22, 1973/ National Stadium, Kingston, Jamaica
Loser’s record before fight: 29-0 (25 KOs)

Frazier had sustained a great deal of punishment in his brilliant 1971 victory over Ali and was floored six times in this pulverizing loss to Foreman. The great Philadelphia hooker returned to post quality wins over Joe Bugner, Jimmy Ellis and Jerry Quarry but he’d lost a step. Frazier’s final moment of greatness came in a third fight with Ali when he pushed his great rival to the brink before being forced to retire in his corner at the end of the 14th round. Even in defeat, his performance in Manila was one of his very best.

Comeback rating: 7/10

Muhammad Ali KO 8 George Foreman
Date/ Location: Oct. 30, 1974/ Stade du 20 Mai, Kinshasa, Zaire
Loser’s record before fight: 40-0 (37 KOs)

A devastating knockout loss to Ali haunted Foreman for years. There was a classic win over the super-tough Ron Lyle which re-established his credentials as a devastating knockout artist, but something was still missing. Jimmy Young scored a unanimous decision over him in March 1977 and Foreman retired from the ring for 10 years. He would lose to Evander Holyfield and Tommy Morrison before knocking out then-champion Michael Moorer in November 1994, reclaiming what he’d lost 20 years earlier.

Comeback rating: 10/10

Muhammad Ali tags Leon Spinks in their rematch.

Muhammad Ali UD 15 Leon Spinks
Date/ Location: Sept. 15, 1978/ Superdome, New Orleans
Losers’ record before fight: 7-0-1 (5 KOs)

After outpointing Ali in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history seven months earlier in Las Vegas, Spinks was taken to school in the return. He came back against dangerous South African Gerrie Coetzee in June 1979 and was obliterated in a single round. Larry Holmes halted Spinks two years later and the Saint Louis native was never a serious player at world level again. A sixth-round stoppage to WBA cruiserweight titleholder Dwight Muhammad Qawi in March 1986 was Spinks’ final title bout.

Comeback rating: 2/10

Michael Spinks UD 15 Larry Holmes
Date/ Location: Sept. 21, 1985/ Riviera Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas
Loser’s record before fight: 48-0 (34 KOs)

Embarrassed by his loss to a light heavyweight champion, Holmes accused judges of drinking alcohol before they score fights. Hey, with what we’ve seen since, “The Easton Assassin” may have had a point. Holmes appeared to avenge his loss to Spinks in April 1986 but, perhaps not surprisingly, the judges went against him. Holmes would never win the title again and suffered a fourth-round knockout loss to a rampaging Mike Tyson. However, a 12-round decision victory over the previously unbeaten Ray Mercer, at the age of 42, was a masterclass.

Comeback rating: 5/10

Buster Douglas KO 10 Mike Tyson
Date/ Location: Feb. 11, 1990/ Tokyo Dome, Japan
Loser’s record before fight: 37-0 (33 KOs)

The greatest upset in boxing history? Tyson won four fights following his first defeat before being convicted of rape and sent to prison in March 1992. The former undisputed champion returned to the ring in August 1995 and would eventually reclaim WBC and WBA titles. However, a brace of defeats to Evander Holyfield (including an infamous DQ loss for biting his opponent’s ear) and a thumping defeat to Lennox Lewis ended his world title aspirations.

Comeback rating: 6/10

Riddick Bowe UD 12 Evander Holyfield
Date/ Location: Nov. 13, 1992/ Thomas & Mack Centre, Las Vegas
Loser’s record before fight: 28-0 (22 KOs)

Holyfield was given more credit for a losing effort to Bowe than he was for 28 previous victories. However, “The Real Deal” wanted nothing to do with losing. Holyfield reclaimed the title from Bowe the following year as underdog and would go on to establish himself as an all-time great. Domination of Mike Tyson was his crowning achievement in a third world title win and, following a loss to Lennox Lewis, he became the first and only four-time heavyweight titleholder in history when he outpointed John Ruiz. The only downside was hanging on too long.

Comeback rating: 9/10

Holyfield cracks Bowe with a right hand in their rematch. Photo from The Ring archive

Evander Holyfield MD 12 Riddick Bowe
Date/ Location: Nov. 6, 1993/ Caesars Palace, Las Vegas
Loser’s record before fight: 34-0 (30 KOs)

Bowe’s dedication to his craft was heading south before he lost to Holyfield and his first professional setback didn’t help. There were decent wins over Jorge Luis Gonzalez and a below par Holyfield in their rubber match but Bowe was essentially finished. The Brooklyn-born boxer-puncher sustained horrific damage in two DQ wins over Andrew Golota, and a trio of comeback wins over hapless opposition proved nothing. Probably the worst waste of talent in heavyweight championship history.

Comeback rating: 3/10

Oliver McCall TKO 2 Lennox Lewis
Date/ Location: Sept. 24, 1994/ Wembley Arena, London
Loser’s record before fight: 25-0 (21 KOs)

Shortly after his one-punch shocker to McCall, Lewis joined forces with the man who had orchestrated his downfall. Emmanuel Steward, a legendary trainer, took the occasionally awkward and careless Brit and turned him into a proficient and powerful boxer-puncher. There was one more knockout loss to Hasim Rahman, but Lewis became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and he was the dominant heavyweight of his era. Victories over Golota, Holyfield, Rahman, David Tua and Tyson were of the highest quality.

Comeback rating: 9/10

George Foreman KO 10 Michael Moorer
Date/ Location: Nov. 5, 1994/ MGM Grand, Las Vegas
Loser’s record before fight: 35-0 (31 KOs)

“It happened!” It sure did. Moorer was out before he hit the canvas and a loss to the 45-year-old former champion threatened to destroy his career. Moorer, however, posted some decent wins after this knockout defeat. “Double M” reclaimed the vacant IBF title by outpointing Axel Shultz and scored stoppage wins over Frans Botha and Vassily Jirov before his career was over. Decisive losses to Holyfield in a rematch and David Tua, a crippling first-round knockout, go against him.

Comeback rating: 5/10


Tom Gray is Associate Editor for The Ring. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing



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