Over the course of boxing history, most of the great heavyweight fights saw a rematch; a return battle: Tunney and Dempsey fought twice, as did Louis and Schmeling, and Marciano and Walcott, and Ali and Liston, and Ali and Frazier, who of course fought three times, and so on.
In terms of the two biggest world heavyweight title fight returns that didn’t happen, we must look at Ali-Foreman II and James “Buster” Douglas-Mike Tyson II as the biggest ‘what ifs?’
As fans know, this Friday marks the 32nd anniversary of the biggest upset in boxing history; that surreal afternoon in Tokyo, Japan when whopping great underdog Douglas (who was a 42/1 or worse outsider, with fans having a tough time finding any place to put down a wedge on a Buster win, should they be crazy enough to want to do so) got up from a controversial knockdown and proceeded to ruin Tyson inside ten rounds.
There was more shock felt here than there was when Ali removed Foreman’s cloak of invincibility 16 years before. And as with Ali’s miracle in Zaire, fans wanted to see a sequel to Buster’s miracle in Tokyo. Neither return took place.
Would Ali have again had too much magic, too much savvy, and too many inner reserves for Foreman, or would “Big George” have avenged the loss that forced him into a serious battle with depression?
We will never know. Would Buster have again been totally unintimidated by Tyson, and would he have again hit Tyson with too much for Mike to handle, or would “Iron Mike” have avenged the loss that so severely humbled him? Again, we will never know.
But both rematches could have happened; indeed, should have happened.
As legend has it, Ali laid down terms for a Foreman rematch, with “The Greatest” calling up Foreman himself and telling him he would fight him again if he, Foreman, worked once again with Dick Sadler (who was there in Africa; with Foreman later writing in his autobiography how Sadler gave him his usual pre-fight drink of iced water in the dressing room, but that this time the treat of a drink “tasted like medicine.”)
Foreman said no.
There is no record of Tyson making any demands ahead of a would-be rematch with Douglas, but in the months after his shocking loss, Tyson’s fans were certain their hero would fight Buster again and that he would crush him quickly and painfully.
Douglas, as we know, instead fought Evander Holyfield next, and he was in no shape to put up any real fight. Douglas, distracted by his courtroom battle with Don King (the infamous “long count” issue from that eighth round) and happily (or unhappily) eating himself out of anything like fighting shape, was wiped out by “The Real Deal.” But would things have been different if – and, yeah, it’s a big if – Buster had remained disciplined and had got that immediate rematch with Tyson?
Would an in-shape, focused, and hungry Douglas have always beaten Tyson, or was it a case of lightning striking once against an unmotivated, screwing-himself-silly (with Japanese Geisha Girls mostly) vastly rich heavyweight king who had zero desire to even get into the ring that night in 1990? Again, we will never know. And what a pity it is; for us fans and for the two losers of arguably the two biggest upsets in world heavyweight title fight history.
For what it’s worth, here’s a shot at what might have happened if both sequels did happen:
Foreman refuses to fall for Ali’s ‘rope-a-dope’ tricks this time, yet he is still seriously compromised by his hidden admiration for Ali, and he loses a wide decision in a dull fight.
Tyson, shamed into putting the babes down and knuckling down in training harder than he had worked since the Trevor Berbick fight, comes in and destroys a game Douglas in short order.
But as it is, both fights are fully confined to Dream Fight status. Unfortunately. But what do YOU guys think?