In date order, we start with James J Jeffries’ humiliating TKO loss to Jack Johnson, all the way back in 1910. Racism was at an all time high and white America summoned their ‘great white hope’ back to the ring. After six years of retirement, Jeffries obliged and came back to try and put an end to the first black heavyweight championship reign, only to lose his undefeated record. Johnson toyed with the older man for 15 rounds until the referee saved him from further punishment.
Forty years on and things are a bit different. America finds itself embracing its second African American Heavyweight Champion: Joe Louis. Everyone thinks of Louis’ tragic loss to Marciano as his big comeback fight but the fact was he had fought only 2 months before that fight and six more times previously that year. In 1950 A rusty Louis lost over 15 rounds to top contender Ezzard Charles after a two year, three month layoff. The fight itself wasn’t a classic but it is remembered more for ending Louis’ 13 year Championship reign, which included a record 25 defences that remains unbeaten in any weight division.
Moving on a further 20 years we have Muhamad Ali’s awesome performance against Jerry Quarry after a three year, seven month exile from the sport. Everyone was keen to see how Ali would fare against one of the best heavyweights around at the time after such a period of inactivity. Fight experts such as legendary trainer Cus D’amato was very sceptical about Ali’s chances. Even though the great one didn’t move as he once did, he didn’t have to. Quarry barely scored as Ali didn’t waste any time in taking him out in less than three rounds.
Six years on, George Foreman’s TKO of Ron Lyle was impressive for different reasons. Foreman hadn’t fought since losing his aura of invincibility to the aforementioned Ali 16 months earlier, and it showed. With each boxer down numerous times in what can only be described as a slugfest, Foreman and Lyle provided some of the most entertaining rounds in heavyweight history. With both boxers having punched each other to the point of near exhaustion, ignoring defence and just relying purely on power, it could have been any ones fight. After suffering two heavy knockdowns in the forth and dishing out one of his own, Foreman came back to stop Lyle in the fifth. Such was the brutality of the contest; members of the audience were pleading the referee to stop the fight.
Next up is Sugar Ray Leonard’s sensational comeback-from-retirement win over Marvin Hagler in 1987. This has to be the most impressive comeback fight of all time. After only fighting once in the past five years (three years earlier) Leonard was stepping up to a new weight division to face the long reigning middleweight champ. It was a close fight so when it came down to the championship rounds both fighters knew victory was hanging in the balance. Hagler was landing the harder punches, while Leonard impressed the judges with his late flurries in the last 30 seconds of each round. Just as you thought Leonard was caving in to Hagler’s constant pressure, he would let out a multiple punch combination of anything up to ten shots. When Leonard took the fight on a split decision, Hagler was so enraged that he never laced them up again. The decision is still highly debated to this day, but I believe Leonard stole the fight. However, I’m sure even the sugar man himself might agree that had it been a 15 rounder he surely would have been stopped. Leonard put on a master class of speed, ring generalship and savvy to outhustle the bigger man.
The following year, after a 21 month hiatus Larry Holmes took a fight at short notice to face the new heavyweight champ; the young, undefeated Mike Tyson. At 38 Holmes was clearly not at his best and was demolished inside four rounds to earn the first stoppage loss of his career. At this point in his championship reign Tyson was an unstoppable force and wasted no time in dispatching the former champ. Holmes was not what he once was and claims that in his prime Tyson wouldn’t be good enough to be his sparring partner. A slight exaggeration I think, but it is hard to imagine Tyson getting past Holmes’ jab had Holmes been around a decade younger.
In 2004 the world Light Welterweight Champion Kostya Tszyu came back from 23 months of injuries to destroy Sharmba Mitchel. Mitchel was a slick southpaw who had only lost once in the last ten years due to a knee injury that ended a close fight between these same fighters. Going in to the contest it was assumed that Tszyu was damaged goods and the fight was up for grabs. Tszyu soon put an end to those suspicions with a series of right hands in third round, making it look easy.
The most recent comeback win in 2008 is perhaps one of the most impressive. After just under four years away from the sport Vitali Klitschko made easy work of WBC Champion Samuel Peter. Klitschko barley got hit as he dominated the hard hitting Peter from a distance. It may not have been an exciting fight to watch but Klitschko put on a master class of how to hit and not be hit. Peter got picked off with head shots until he retired on his stool at the end of the eighth.
At only 31 and having spent just 21 months away, Mayweather isn’t facing as big a task as some of these former champions did. He is also facing a much smaller man than himself; however Marquez is a top 5 P4Per and is always sure to put on a great performance. There are always a lot of questions to answer for any fighter when coming back from a layoff, but I feel Floyd has the ability to answer them over 12 rounds.