Heavyweight Comebacks: Are They Futile? Golota, Holyfield, McCall, Mesi, Oquendo and Sanders

david tua20.06.07 - By Paul McCreath: In years gone by there was a common saying in the boxing world "They never come back." For many years this was mostly true. A few boxers tried comebacks, but aside from some minor successes, most failed. Then along came Sugar Ray Robinson, the former world middleweight champion. After losing a challenge for the light heavyweight title against Joey Maxim in June of 1952, he announced his retirement in December of that year.

Nearly two years later, he returned to the ring first for an exhibition bout, then in January of 1955 his first in a series of fights that would culminate in December when he regained his title with a second round KO of Bobo Olson. He had proven that sometimes they do come back.

Robinson was followed by two very prominent heavyweights who also came back and re-won their titles. First came Muhammed Ali, who had been idle due to draft problems throughout both 1968 and 1969. He returned to the ring in 1970 and after losing over 15 rounds to Joe Frazier the next year, he eventually regained his title with his famous stoppage of George Foreman in Zaire in Oct. of 1974. Foreman himself came back to the ring in 1987 after being retired for 10 years and shocked the world by stopping Michael Moorer in November of 1994, to gain the WBA and IBF versions of the heavyweight crown. After that, nothing was considered impossible.

So what are the chances of any of our current crop of returning behemoths gaining a title? Let us take a look at the situation as it exists today.

We have at this time four former belt holders on the comeback trail and three former top contenders, two of whom have had title shots in their earlier careers. Evander Holyfield was the most prominent of the champs and has held world belts on several occasions but at 44, he is the oldest of the group. Evander was idle for about 21 months after his loss to Larry Donald but returned to the chase vowing to regain all his titles in August of 2006. So far, he has three wins, none overly impressive. His best effort was a close disputed decision over Fres Oquendo, another returning heavy. There is evidence that Holyfield is healthier now than when he met Donald so his followers are still hoping for the best. His next opponent, the veteran Lou Savarese on June 30, will quite possibly qualify him for a voluntary shot at Sultan Ibragimov, the WBO belt holder, if he gets by Lou in impressive fashion. Since he is the most likely to get a title shot soon, Evander probably has the best chance of success but can he win? At his age, with slowing reflexes, it is doubtful but Evander is always in top condition, so who knows?

David Tua probably has the best tools to regain a title. Nobody disputes his great punching power or rock like chin. However, David's problem is his lack of dedication and hunger for the game. He was out of boxing for two years due to a dispute with his management team. Surely if he really wanted to fight, he could have found a way during this time. He could have had his purses held in escrow. Since returning in July of 2006, he has won three bouts in an unimpressive manner while avoiding any tough matches. His weight, as high as 250, suggests he is not serious about his career. Although he is only 34-years-old, don't expect much from Tua.

Don't hold your breath for Corrie Sanders either.After an absence of two years he returned with a set up type win this month over Danial Bispo but was in dreadful shape.At 39 with his past history of avoiding serious training he seems unlikely to make his mark again now. This former WBO champ with the big punch would like a return match with Wladimir Klitschko if you can believe him but few expect this to happen.

42-year-old former champ Oliver McCall is worth a mention here after his nice win this past weekend over fringe contender Sinan Samil Sam. Oliver was never really retired, just out of action for long periods throughout his career. He has been quite active with an 11-2 record since his latest return in April of 2003. His two losses to Juan Carlos Gomez and DaVarryl Williamson suggest he may have trouble with the top rated fighters who can move. It should be noted that the Gomez fight is still officially a loss according to Fite Fax. Oliver's checkered past make him a bit of a risk for promoters as well but he could still wind up getting a shot all the same.

Andrew Golota falls into the same category as Sanders. He KO'd Jeremy Bates in a return to the ring this month, but no one is taking him too seriously at 39 with all his past failures. He had also been away from boxing for two years.

Fres Oquendo, a former top contender, who gave both Chris Byrd and John Ruiz plenty of trouble in title fights, is another fighter that is back. He lost a close one to Holyfield and has three other wins, including his last bout with Damien Norris in May, a 6th round stoppage. At 34, he is still young enough but if he fell short when he was younger his chances now seem rather slim.

Finally, we have Joe Mesi, at 33 years the youngest of the come backers. We all know how Mesi was injured in his win over Vassiliy Jirov in March of 2004. After two years of striving to regain his license to fight, Mesi has managed to win six bouts against very soft opposition, all in places not known as main boxing states. None of the major states have yet agreed to let Joe fight. This would appear to be a large stumbling block even if you believe that Joe has the ability to win a title. Many, of course, believe Mesi has seen his best days or maybe never was that good. Anything could happen here from another injury to possible success. You just have to hope the news will not be bad. If he can get licensed in New York, a fight with Hasim Rahman would be a big draw. Time will tell.

In conclusion, I don't think any of these men are going to win a world title belt but I would not call their comebacks futile, at least not in all cases. They have stirred up some interest again, especially Holyfield and McCall. I just wish we would see some fights between these veterans and some of the young tigers coming up like Eddie Chambers, Chris Arreola, Kevin Johnson, Alex Povetkin, or Alex Dimitrenko. Then we would know more about what the future holds for the heavyweight division.

Article posted on 21.06.2007

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