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Heavyweight Comebacks: Why History Isn’t On Tyson Fury’s Side And He Knows It

Following his ten round points victory over Italian heavyweight Francesco Pianeta, Tyson Fury came face to face with WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder to announce to the world that the two undefeated heavyweights would clash next. But with still no word on exactly when and where the fight will take place, some fans and pundits are doubting that the fight will really take place in 2018. Most notably, among the doubters being rival promoter Eddie Hearn, who has told multiple YouTube channels that he has doubts the fight will actually take place. Adding to these doubts have been the claims of ESPN boxing writer Dan Rafael, who has stated in a questions and answers chat on the ESPN website that an unnamed source inside Tyson Fury’s promotional team told him (Rafael) that Fury was getting cold feet about stepping into the ring with Wilder so soon into his comeback: “All I know is what one the members of his management team told me -- that he thought he might need another fight first. Who knows what will happen? Maybe he is just negotiating. If he punks after all that hype last week, shame on him.”

Despite the scepticism Tyson Fury’s promoter Frank Warren has done little to reassure boxing fans that the fight will actually take place, other than promising that full details of where and when the fight will be taking place will be coming soon, but that it is likely going to be in November, either in New York or Las Vegas. While Tyson Fury has insisted the fight will happen, if we look back at heavyweight history, it is easy to see why the Fury team might be getting cold feet about challenging an elite level heavyweight so quickly after three years away from the ring.

In 1970, after almost three years in self-imposed exile from the sport for refusing to take part in the Vietnam War after being drafted, Muhammad Ali returned to boxing. Ali would eventually go on to become the first and so-far, only, three-time lineal heavyweight champion of the world: knocking out George Foreman in 1974 and beating Leon Spinks on points in 1978. What is often forgotten today, however, is that Ali lost to Joe Frazier on his first attempt at winning back the world title, and shortly later was beaten again by Ken Norton. Later after retiring in 1978, Ali attempted two more comebacks, against Larry Holmes in 1980 and Trevor Berbick one year later, both ending in disaster for the then ageing former champion.

Despite the losses, all most boxing fans remember today is that Ali won the title back against George Foreman in what was at the time the greatest sporting comeback in history. It would be two decades before ironically the man Ali beat to regain the title, George Foreman, at the age of 45, would eclipse Ali’s accomplishment by winning back the world heavyweight title by knocking out Michael Moorer in 1994. Like Ali, however, Foreman did not choose to challenge the world champion immediately after returning to the ring in 1987, after a ten-year long layoff. Similarly, Foreman like Ali before him would fail on his first attempt to win back the title against Evander Holyfield, and would lose again against Tommy Morrison for the WBO version before ultimately re-capturing the title.

Another heavyweight that came back after a long layoff from the boxing ring was Tyson Fury’s namesake, Mike Tyson. The self-proclaimed “baddest man on the planet” originally lost the undisputed title against Buster Douglas following a tenth-round knockout. Mike Tyson had knocked Douglas down in round eight, but Douglas survived after what Tyson’s promoter Don King claimed was a slow count from the referee. At the time, because of the controversary surrounding the fight many believed Tyson would quickly regain his belts, but after a rape conviction and resulting prison sentence, it would be three years before ‘Iron’ Mike would fight for a world title again.

Oddly mirroring Tyson Fury’s recent comeback, Mike Tyson also returned to the ring against two weaker opponents (Peter McNeeley and Buster Mathis Jr.) before taking on the WBC belt holder, Frank Bruno, who Tyson easily defeated inside three rounds. There is a world of difference, however, against an old, injured Frank Bruno, who had already been beaten by Tyson and an undefeated Deontay Wilder, who is still in his prime and has knocked out every opponent he has faced so far. And while Tyson’s comeback was initially successful, it should be stressed that once he stepped up to the elite heavyweight level again against Evander Holyfield and years later again against Lennox Lewis, Tyson was beaten convincingly.

The pattern of heavyweight history seems clear, while fighters can come back after long layoffs, it can take years before they can win at the very top level again, if ever. Tyson Fury, being a student of boxing history, knows this. So boxing fans should not be surprised If they have to wait a bit longer than the coming November for the Wilder-Fury fight to actually take place.

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