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George Foreman and the 10 Greatest Boxing Comebacks of All Time

James WalkerAnalyst IJanuary 15, 2017

George Foreman and the 10 Greatest Boxing Comebacks of All Time

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    Determination, hard graft, physical strength and fitness are four of the most essential ingredients needed to create a world class boxer.  

    Unfortunately, as sports stars age, the very attributes that made them heroes abandon them.

    It’s a trend that is natural in all walks of life. The old get weak, and the young get stronger.

    This slideshow consists mostly of boxers who have continued to fight on, despite the hindrance of being in their senior years.

    It also includes two or three boxers who have launched stellar career comebacks from the brink of failure, or exile.

George Foreman

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    If George Foreman’s retirement after being defeated by Jimmy Young in Puerto Rico in 1977 shocked the boxing community, the announcement of his return in 1987 sent the sport into raptures.  

    In what was supposed to be the last match of his career, Big George put on an unprecedented display of cautiousness during the early rounds his clash against Young.

    The American flew in just one day before the start of the encounter, giving himself little time to acclimate. He fell ill following the fight, prompting him to have what he claims to be a "near death experience."

    At the age of 38, after a 10-year absence, Foreman made his return to the ring. Steve Zuoski was the first in a line of 24 victories, most of which were routine wins against less established boxers.

    His form earned him a match against Evander Holyfield, fighting for the WBC, WBA and IBF world titles. Despite a valiant display, at the age of 42, Foreman was defeated by way of unanimous decision.

    For most boxers, this would culminate into being a bitter end to an impressive comeback.

    Foreman persevered.

    Two years later he became eligible for a shot at the vacant WBO heavyweight title, against Tommy Morrison.

    Morrison distributed a series of huge hits on Big George, but Foreman managed to take it to the judges, losing by way of another unanimous decision.   

    Foreman’s second attempt to win a world title in his comeback had failed.

    Again, he persevered.

    A little over a year later, he was awarded a title shot against Michael Moorer for the WBA and IBF heavyweight titles, this time winning by way of technical knockout.

    Foreman went on to win the IBA and WBU title, but was stripped of his IBF belt because he refused to offer a rematch to Axel Schulz, the man from whom he claimed the title.  

Muhammad Ali

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    Muhammad Ali made several comebacks in his career, but the one that stands out has to be the rebuilding of his career after being stripped of his titles for refusing to go to war in Vietnam.

    Instead of plying to Asia, he dubbed himself a "conscientious objector."

    Ali won the heavyweight title after defeating Sonny Liston at Miami Beach in 1964. A successful defence of his title in a rematch one year later reaffirmed Ali’s position at the summit of boxing—that is until the outbreak of the Vietnam War.

    After the U.S army found him to have sub-par reading and spelling skills, he was deemed unsuitable for service in 1966. One year later, however, they revised their criteria, making the champion eligible for national service.

    Ali refused, on moral grounds, and was consequently stripped of his boxing license and titles permanently. After three years of legal proceedings, the Supreme Court overturned Ali’s suspension, enabling him to make a return to boxing.

    After a unanimous defeat to Joe Frazier three fights into his comeback, Ali rebuilt his name with a series of routine wins against less established names. His form earned him a fight with Ken Norton, losing in a split decision.

    Ali won a rematch six months later, teeing himself up for another fight against Joe Frazier.

    Victory against Frazier set up the Rumble in the Jungle, and the rest is history…

Evander Holyfield

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    The Real Deal’s determination to prolong his career has earned him a mixed bag of success.

    He is history’s only four-time world champion in the heavyweight division, but his career was seemingly over in 2003 following a defeat to James Toney, age 42.

    It was the second in a string of three consecutive defeats that reportedly prompted the New York State Athletic Commission to ban him from boxing in 2005.

    Despite this, Holyfield was adamant that his losses were the result of a shoulder injury and not due to age.

    In 2006, age 45, he competed in his first professional bout in two years against Jeremy Bates. He went on to win another three on the bounce before losing to Sultan Ibragimov and Nikolai Valuev.

    Despite his two defeats, his next fight was a title shot for the WBF heavyweight title against Francois Botha, some 18 months after his contest with Valuev.

    An eighth-round knockout was all it took for Holyfield to win the title at age 47. He has yet to defend the title.

Sugar Ray Robinson

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    A grueling fight against Joey Maxim in 1952 prompted Sugar Ray Robinson to suffer the only knockout of his career.

    In difficult 103-degree heat, Robinson collapsed at the end of the 13th round.

    In a strange and slightly ironic change of career path, Robinson then chose to retire from boxing.

    His reason?

    To become a dancer.

    After an unsuccessful three-year spell in the dance industry, Sugar Ray Robinson returned to the boxing fraternity for a decade.

    Perhaps his spell as a dancer aided his footwork, because in only his second fight he won a middleweight title.

    Robinson indeed claims that his dance career aided his boxing. In his autobiography, he claims that dancing kept him in tiptop condition because he ran five miles every morning, and then danced for five hours each night.

    Robinson’s career was a little topsy turvy at times following his comeback, but the 10 years he spent in the ring earned him a place in the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1967.

    Despite his success, he died in poverty after squandering his fortune.

Sugar Ray Leonard

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    Sugar Ray Leonard’s career is littered with retirements and comebacks.

    He retired for the first time in 1981, after suffering an eye injury in the build up to his fight against Thomas Hearns.

    Despite persevering and winning the fight, and defeating Bruce Finch five months later, Leonard declared that his eye injury was too serious.

    The injury forced him to retire from the sport, despite holding the WBC and WBA welterweight titles.

    He made his first comeback in a one-off fight against Kevin Howard, which he won.

    He made another comeback three years later, against Marvin Hagler in 1986. A controversial split decision favoured Leonard, and he won the WBC Middleweight title in his first match since his return to the sport.

    He remained unbeaten until his retirement in 1989, collecting the WBC lightweight and WBC super middleweight titles in the process.

    He went on to make two more failed comebacks.

    He lost to Terry Norris in 1991 and Hector Camacho in 1997.

Oscar De La Hoya

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    Winning six world titles at six different weight categories is no small feat, but the Golden Boy pulled it off in a career that saw him become one of the most popular boxers in recent history.

    Despite fighting during a time where big money bouts were seldom seen, De La Hoya was a box office success—and his comebacks certainly helped the ratings.

    After the failed defence of his WBO middleweight title against Bernard Hopkins in 2004, the Golden Boy announced his retirement for the first time.

    However, after a two-year hiatus, he returned.

    He returned to fight Richard Mayorga following some very public comments made by the Argentine boxer.

    Many were questioning whether De La Hoya was good enough for the fight, given his two-year absence from the sport. Any doubts were corrected less than one minute in the first round.

    The Golden Boy knocked Mayorga to the ground, eventually going on to knock him out for victory in the sixth.

    He then took more time off from the game. He was only tempted to fight in lucrative matches, which he did against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in 2007 and Manny Pacquiao in 2008.

    Despite losing both fights, they were major box office hits earning the Golden Boy some serious money.

    He has now been officially retired since April 14th, 2009.  

Joe Louis

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    The Brown Bomber made a comeback from his 1949 retirement at the age of 36 after he was found guilty of owing the IRS $500,000 from failed tax returns.

    The debt forced him into putting his gloves back on, despite being well past his prime.

    Louis’ management negotiated an agreement with the IRS on the condition that all of the Brown Bomber’s earnings were given to the IRS until his debts had been paid.

    Despite losing his return match to Ezzard Charles, and being long past his prime, Joe Louis mustered together eight consecutive wins in a little more than one year.

    His form teed up a match against Rocky Marciano.                                           

    Unfortunately for Louis, he was thoroughly beaten by the Brockton Blockbuster. Joe Louis’ glory days had long since passed and Marciano knocked him out in the eighth, sending Louis into retirement for good.  

    It is even more unfortunate that, despite his best efforts, his debt spiralled to nearly $1 million due to a 90 percent interest rate at the time.

    Perhaps Louis’ greatest achievement was defeating Max Schmeling in 1938.

    Schmeling was an example of Germany’s believed racial superiority at the height of their military power. The German boxer had defeated Louis in an earlier bout and was considered by many to be the greatest fighter in the world.

    Louis won in the first round, knocking the German to the floor three times in the process.

Larry Holmes

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    After a glistening career, Larry Holmes announced his retirement in 1986 following two defeats at the hands of Leon Spinks.

    Holmes had previously held the WBC world heavyweight title for 17 bouts before surrendering it for a shot at the IBF belt. He went on to win 48 straight fights, leaving him one shy of Marciano’s record.  

    Leon Spinks ended all of his hard work. Twice.

    The Easton Assassin made a brief comeback in 1988 to take on Mike Tyson for the WBC, WBA and IBF titles, but was knocked down three times in the fourth round.

    This forced him into another two years of retirement before making a comeback in 1991 at the age of 42. He went on to fight another 23 fights, losing three times.

    It was a title shot against Evander Holyfield that prompted the Easton Assassin to come out of retirement. After defeating a string of six opponents, and taking Ray Mercer "to school," he was offered a world title bout against Holyfield.

    The fight went to the judges but they unanimously concluded that Holyfield was the victor.

    Holmes went on to have two more failed world title shots, against Oliver McCall in 1995 and Brian Nelson in 1997. He lost both contests at the age of 46 and 47.

    He finally retired at age 52 in 2002 after defeating Erich Esch; a man 17 years his junior.  

Eder Jofre

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    Brazilian boxer Eder Jofre retired from boxing in 1966 after losing his first fight, and a return contest, at the hands of Japanese boxer Harada.

    The Brazilian boxer was, at the time, the undisputed bantamweight champion and had defeated a wealth of talent in the weight division.

    Three years later, Jofre reappeared on the boxing scene, and after three years of defeating a wealth of opponents, he won the super featherweight title in 1973, defeating Jose Legra in the process.

    He remained unbeaten throughout his comeback and even moved up a division, at the age of 37, to claim the featherweight title.

James Toney

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    The embarrassing defeat against archival Roy Jones led James Toney to change the path of his career in imperious fashion.

    Toney looked a shade of his former self in the bout; it seemed as if he had eaten his way out of a career.

    Although he did not retire from the sport, his career fell drastically off course. Two defeats against Montell Griffin and a bust up with manager Jackie Kallen seemed to signify the end to a career that could have been brilliant.

    Toney and his management had struggled to find the correct weight class for Light’s Out to fight in, but under new management he found success in the cruiserweight division.

    After several years fighting lesser known opponents, Toney was able to set himself up with a shot for the IBF cruiserweight title in 2003.

    He defeated defending champion Vassiliy Jirov to claim the belt and beat Evander Holyfield in his first defence of the title.

    Despite rebuilding his career, he has consistently been the bane of his own success.

    In 2005 he was stripped of his title for testing positive for anabolic steroids in the buildup to a fight against John Ruiz.

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