The Pugil List: Top 10 rematches
In the entertainment industry, the sequel rarely surpasses the original and – let’s face it – the first Andre Ward-Sergey Kovalev fight featured more drama than excitement. So I actually have a high degree of certainty that the second meeting between the American and Russian combatants will exceed the first installment, in most aspects. It already has, in terms of venom spewed by Kovalev, who feels he has a righteous anger directed at Ward and the three American judges. I thought Kovalev edged the first fight by a round and he received a bonus point for the knockdown of Ward in the second round. I am not alone; in a post-fight poll of 63 members of the boxing media, 46 had scored the fight in favor of Kovalev. That is all in the past and I will continue to focus on the past today with a look at the greatest rematches in boxing history.
Missing the cut, for one reason or another, in my Top 10, are the second installments of Alexis Arguello-Alfredo Escalera, Paul Banke-Daniel Zaragoza, Joe Louis-Bob Pastor, Carmen Basilio-Johnny Saxton, Rocky Marciano-Ezzard Charles, Sugar Ray Robinson-Carmen Basilio, Ted Lewis-Jack Britton, Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns, James Toney-Mike McCallum, Joe Brown-Dave Charnley, Pascual Perez-Yoshio Shirai, Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield, Jake LaMotta-Laurent Dauthuille, Aaron Pryor-Alexis Arguello, Jose Luis Ramirez-Edwin Rosario, Ricardo Lopez-Rosendo Alvarez, Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield, Joey Giardello-Joe Hank, Bobby Chacon-Cornelius Boza-Edwards, Marco Antonio Barrera-Erik Morales, Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez, Gene Tunney-Jack Dempsey, Tony Canzoneri-Billy Petrolle, Micky Ward-Arturo Gatti, Israel Vasquez-Rafael Marquez and Rocky Marciano-Roland LaStarza.
10. Vicente Salidvar W 15 Howard Winstone (June 15, 1967) – A boxing match does not have to be a brawl to be classic. This is such an instance, as this duo were boxers first and foremost, though Saldivar held an edge because of his southpaw stance and power. On the other hand, Winstone had a better jab and was slightly faster. The Welshman held the home field advantage in the rematch, with 30,000 fans roaring as Winstone took the early rounds behind his rapier jab. As importantly, Winstone was slipping the Saldivar’s counters. The slipping of punches is what was missing from Winstone’s arsenal the first time but, as the rounds wore on, Saldivar began to time Winstone. By the 10th round, Winstone was ahead but clearly tiring. Saldivar stepped on the gas and you knew that, like a truck slowly gaining on a Porsche, he would do damage when he caught up to his faster competitor. Saldivar swept the championship rounds and staggered Winstone on several occasions. Winstone survived a brutal beating in the 14th going down once but could never find a second wind to win a round after the 10th, any of which would have given him the win. Give credit to English referee and sole judge Wally Thom who correctly scored the close fight by one-half a point in favor of Saldivar.
9. Matthew Saad Muhammad TKO 14 Yaqui Lopez (July 13, 1980) – Finding great fighters at light heavyweight is not difficult; finding great fights is a bit more problematic. Not so with Muhammad vs. Lopez, as this was a great fight on any scale. I would not characterize Muhammad as a great boxer. He was a great fighter with an indomitable heart and vast reserves of energy. Put Saad Muhammad alongside Muhammad Ali and Jake LaMotta for punch resiliency and recuperative powers and place Yaqui Lopez among the best boxers to never win a world title. It looked like Lopez was going to come through on his fourth title attempt, taking the fight effectively to the champ in the first half of the fight. Everyone knew Muhammad was a second-half fighter but he had never been in with someone as experienced as Lopez. In a remarkable eighth round, Lopez had Muhammad on the ropes, landing what seemed like 30 blows while Muhammad endured, only to have him dishing out the punishment in return by the end of the round. Lopez looked dejected at his inability to finish the champ. Muhammad surged forward, from that point on, and Lopez was an exhausted lump of flesh by the 14th round. Muhammad went in for the kill, and finished his valiant foe with four knockdowns in the 14th.
8. Floyd Patterson KO 5 Ingemar Johansson (June 20, 1960) – Jack Dempsey could not do it, nor did Joe Louis. This was the fight that forever made Floyd Patterson the first man to regain the world heavyweight title. The leaping left hook that knocked Johansson out should be considered one of the most perfectly landed punches ever. It is a mark of the caring person Patterson was that he did not celebrate the viciousness of the hook wildly but rather knelt next to Johansson to see if he would emerge from unconsciousness uninjured. The key to the fight lay in the second round, when Johansson landed a big right hand that Patterson rode out. Firm in the knowledge that he could indeed take a good punch from Johansson, Patterson pressed forward as both men landed punches in bunches. Neither had a clear advantage, since both seemed to take turns landing punches and forsaking defense. Early in the fifth round, Patterson landed a hook that send Ingo down but the latter dragged himself up at the count of nine. Obviously in bad shape Johansson backed away but just slowly enough to ensure he would back into a punch. As Johansson lay on the floor, his feet twitched and shook ominously. Thankfully, Johansson walked out of the ring and into a happy retirement two years later.
7. Johnny Famechon KO 14 Fighting Harada (January 6, 1970) – The pair met almost six months earlier with Famechon defending his WBC featherweight title with a very debated points victory on home turf. The rematch was held in Japan with most believing Harada would take the title, behind his experience and fan support. Again, it was a tough and tightly-contested fight that was difficult to score. Both landed big punches and the infighting made it hard to tell whom was asserting his game upon whom. After nine rounds, it was impossible to tell who had had the better of the fight. All the fans knew was the fight was packed with action, featuring exceptionally short and accurate punching. The fight seemingly turned in the 10th round when Harada knocked Famechon down with a hard right hand. Implausibly, the knockdown had an invigorating effect on Famechon, who rebounded to win the next two rounds. In the 12th, Famechon repaid Harada by knocking him down with a hook. The tide had turned for good and, in the 14th, another hook sent Harada down for the count. Harada said of the rematch, “After my first fight with Famechon, I was too overconfident. On the other hand, Famechon was determined to win in front of a hostile crowd and I believe he trained harder because of this,” proving again that boxing is sport’s toughest mental challenge.
6. Bobby Chacon UD 15 Bazooka Limon (December 11, 1982) – Chacon was the Arturo Gatti of the late-1970s and early-1980s. This 1982 THE RING Magazine “Fight of the Year” came six months before Chacon engaged in the 1983 Fight of the Year rematch bout with Cornelius Boza Edwards (I only want to choose a boxer once). The southpaw Limon’s style gave Chacon fits and he was expert in roughhouse tactics. It would, again, be a final round knockdown that made the difference in this bout. Rafael Limon, as his nickname of “Bazooka” suggests, was a mad bomber with a mean streak to match. The two were an ideal match, with their weaknesses playing into the other’s strength and vice versa. This was more barroom brawl than high art. Momentum shifts marked the fight, as neither could string three winning rounds together. Limon gained an early lead, dropping Chacon in the fourth and pressed his advantage for another round. Chacon rallied in the middle rounds, meaning he was willing to soak up punches to land a few more of his. By the 10th, it looked like Chacon had turned the corner, catching up on the scorecards and punctuating exchanges. Then Limon turned the tables, dropping Chacon in the 10th. Again, Chacon needed to rally and, of course, he did. Winning the final round only gives Chacon a draw. What happens? Chacon drops Limon with seconds to go in the bout and wins by a one-point margin on two cards. A majestic brawl deserving of a space in every fight fan’s DVD library.
5. Carmen Basilio TKO 12 Tony DeMarco (November 30, 1955) – Their first fight was voted the 1955 fight of the year by THE RING Magazine. Their second bout was equally intense, if not quite up to the original’s lofty standards. There was not much time between the bouts, as the duo rematched five months later…with the same results (something we may not want in the Ward-Kovalev rematch, given perhaps dubious judging and lack of two-way action with both men winning rounds clearly). DeMarco tried to end things early, jumping on Basilio with hooks and swarming with combinations at every opportunity. Basilio weathered the storm and began to dish out the tremendous body assault for which he was known. DeMarco seemingly took it well and had Basilio reeling the seventh and eighth rounds. As it turns out, this was his final charge, as DeMarco ran out of gas in the ninth and only his guts kept him upright until the 12th round. Two knockdowns in the 12th convinced referee Mel Manning to stop the fight…exactly two seconds later than their original meeting.
4. Willie Pep UD 15 Sandy Saddler (February 11, 1949) – This is a fight in which the winner battled the clock as much as the man trying to take his head off with hooks and if there were a fighter who could take your head off with one hook, in the 1940s, it was Sandy Saddler! Not many thought Pep could recapture his form after an accident left him with severe back problems. However, as it is often said, “A great champion can regain his former glory for one night.” This was Pep’s night, boxing beautifully and countering the vicious attacks of Saddler artfully. The constant pressure Pep absorbed took a lot out of him physically as well as mentally and, in the ninth round, Saddler seized the initiative, landing punches where he was hitting air before. Pep was unashamedly holding in the last two rounds, not deftly avoiding punches as he had. In today’s game, the referee would probably halt the fight somewhere in the 10th round, as Saddler hit Pep with every punch he threw. Pep remained upright but heavily bruised and cut all about his face. In the 11th and 12th, referee Eddie Joseph’s bravery was proven correct as Pep rallied. It was the last positive thing Pep did, as Saddler turned the table again, battering Pep mercilessly. The judges’ scores read 10-5, 9-5, and 9-6 in favor of Pep. If fights were judged on punishment alone’ Saddler would have won.
3. Beau Jack UD 15 Bob Montgomery (November 19, 1943) – Maybe the best fight of the World War II era? In the first fight, Montgomery walked away with a unanimous decision win and few thought the rematch would end differently, since Jack lost a 10-rounder to Bobby Ruffin a month earlier. Montgomery was 4-to-1 favorite but there was concern from the gamblers when Jack threw a hundred punches a round for the first three rounds. Surely, Jack could not keep up that pace. They were right but it was only after the 12th round when fatigue set in for Jack. When it hit, it did so visibly. Jack barely pushed arm punches in front of him, taking a lot of Montgomery’s heavy artillery in return. But if Jack could remain on his feet, he would win the fight. Montgomery needed to push the action to win and tried furiously to trap a faltering challenger. Jack used his experience and resilience to clinch and move laterally for his life. The final bell sounded and Jack was still on his feet…which was enough to earn the win.
2. Carlos Monzon W 15 Rodrigo Valdes (July 30, 1977) – How big was this rematch in South America? Eighty reporters, 50 from Argentina and 30 from Colombia, flew to Monte Carlo to cover it. Valdes started fast-drawing an advantage by knocking Monzon down in the second round. Monzon got up right away but referee Roland Dakin administered a count of eight. Valdes’ pressure tactics seemed to take effect on Monzon, as the challenger cut the ring off while avoiding Monzon’s vaunted, long jab. After seven rounds, Valdes was ahead but Monzon did not become a legend for giving in to adversity. The champion adjusted and rallied behind lateral movement and a lethal piston jab as the middle rounds tolled. Monzon’s counters now landed with searing accuracy. By the 10th round both of Valdes’ eyes were badly swollen, the result of being caught with right hands that traced the path of Monzon’s jab. In the 10th, Valdes was badly cut over his left eye as well. Valdes endured and continued to fire back but his punches had lost their accuracy and stopping power. THE RING Magazine marveled, “Any other fighter would have gone down after such a barrage but not Valdes. The game boxer fought back. One consolation for Valdes. If Monzon does retire, Rodrigo Valdes is the best middleweight in the world.” Monzon swept the final two rounds on all the judges scorecards; it was such a closely contested fight that THE RING Magazine scored seven rounds even.
1. Rocky Graziano KO 6 Tony Zale (July 16, 1947) – Forget the middleweight title, forget rematches…this is one of the 10 greatest events to ever be staged for the enjoyment of an audience. In today’s TV world, their initial meeting would be an instant classic. No one thought their second fight could match the intensity of the first, much less exceed it in drama and ferocity. In their first fight, Graziano hammered Zale mercilessly, only to see Zale stage a comeback for the ages and win via sixth round KO. This time it was Graziano’s turn to play the role of…well, Rocky. Graziano had one other obstacle which Zale did not have; Graziano could hardly see his opponent through eyes that were merely slits on the verge of being swollen shut. In the first, Graziano was cut over the left eye and, by the start of the third round, his right eye was swollen shut. This after he was nearly halted in the second round. Behind on points, and with the possibility of a stoppage looming, Graziano lands a big right hand late in the fifth round but Zale escapes, thanks to the bell. Graziano followed up on his advantage at the beginning of the sixth and scores the first knockdown of the fight. After Zale stumbles to his feet, Graziano literally tries to pound Zale through the ropes with a barrage of punches. Referee Johnny Behr wisely stepped in to stop the fight, with Zale glassy-eyed and unable to respond to the attack. In his autobiography, Graziano wrote, “This was no boxing match. It was a war and if there wasn’t a referee, one of the two of us would have wound up dead.”