Where Does Vitali Klitschko's Comeback Rank In Heavyweight History?

by James Slater - Coming back as he did this past Saturday, and winning a world title fight with no tune-up bout after almost four years out, 37-year-old Vitali Klitschko made what is undeniably a great comeback. But where, in the history of the heavyweight division, does "Dr Iron Fist's" comeback rank? Just how impressive was his winning against Sam Peter when compared with the amazing ring returns of heavyweights past?

Klitschko's comeback has to be ranked quite highly, for two reasons. Number one: the win marked the very first time a former heavyweight champion came back after so long out and went successfully straight into a title shot with no warm-up bout. And second: the win saw to it that Vitali and brother Wladimir became the first boxing brothers to simultaneously hold versions of the heavyweight title. Of course, were it not for the popping up of the different alphabet groups in boxing, this second distinction would have been impossible. Only due to there no longer being just one world champion in each weight class was the Klitschko's dream achievable.

Still, Vitali's win and his comeback definitely deserves enormous credit. Muhammad Ali, to name another heavyweight great who made a successful comeback (actually, Ali made more than one), when he came back from just under four years out due to his refusing to serve in Vietnam, had two tune-ups before challenging, unsuccessfully, for the world title. Sure, it could be argued that Ali's 1970 comeback foe, Jerry Quarry, was a much better fighter than Sam Peter, and Vitali's October 11th win does not make him a better fight than the great Ali. But what does stand out is the fact that Klitschko had the sheer nerve to go straight back in with a ruling world champion.

Floyd Patterson did something not altogether different back in 1960, when he fought Ingemar Johansson for a second time. Sensationally flattened the year before, Patterson came back a full 12 months later and, with no tune-up, regained his title. Vitali did well to come back and go straight for a belt, but he wasn't coming off a devastating KO defeat. So whose comeback was the more impressive, Klitschko's or Patterson's? Personal opinion can give the only answer, surely.

Indeed, when one looks back at great heavyweight comebacks, where a fighter regained his old title, there really are quite a few to list. Patterson, of course, was the very first man to regain the heavyweight title, so his comeback is easily as unique as Vitali's. Ali, after failing in comeback #1, when he was out-pointed by Joe Frazier, made an even more audacious move just over three years later, when he took on the unbeaten George Foreman for the title. Shocking the world with a stoppage win, Ali once and for all proved his indisputable greatness. Does this comeback rank as a finer achievement than Klitschko's?

And, leaving out the exploits of Evander Holyfield for the moment, what about "Big" George's own stunning return to the top in 1994? Given no chance against the much younger and lethal punching southpaw that was Michael Moorer, Foreman instead made some history of his own by KO'ing Moorer and becoming the oldest man in boxing to hold the heavyweight crown. You see what I mean, Vitali's comeback, though highly noteworthy, has some serious competition.

Speaking of serious competition, the aforementioned Evander Holyfield and his astonishing comebacks - all three of them - give Vitali's a serious run for its money when it comes to overall achievement. Coming back as he did against Riddick Bowe, Mike Tyson and John Ruiz, "The Real Deal" made a name for himself as the comeback king. Who knows, maybe the old guy will even make yet another return to the top!?

Lennox Lewis deserves a mention also. Losing badly to Oliver McCall and later Hasim Rahman, Lewis was also able to comeback and regain his throne - knocking each guy out in return title bouts. And Lewis, as Patterson did against Johansson, went straight back in with Rahman without a tune-up. Yet another fine and noteworthy ring return from a big man of the sport then. And finally, Tim Witherspoon, Mike Tyson and Vitali's younger brother also make the list.

Witherspoon was able to come back from a loss to Pinklon Thomas and defeat Tony Tubbs to claim a second slice of the alphabet pie. While Tyson, newly released from prison, was able to regain two of his old belts; against Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon, respectively. And, in a not altogether easy ring return of his own, Wladimir Klitschko was able to come back from stunning KO losses to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster and go on to become accepted as the best heavyweight in the world (until his older brother's own comeback, anyway). Also, "Dr Steel Hammer" deserves credit for the way he avenged the Brewster defeat.

So where does Vitali's comeback rank and how highly amongst the list of heavyweight returns should it be placed? Without a doubt, the 37-year-old's return to form is right up there with any of them, but to this writer's way of thinking, unless the soon-to-be-46-year-old Holyfield can reclaim a couple of his old belts, the greatest heavyweight comeback ever was the one made by Foreman just less than 14 years ago.

With his own odds defying comeback, Vitali Klitschko has joined some exalted group.

Article posted on 14.10.2008

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