by Cliff Rold
In a way, the fight itself is a compliment to World Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko (57-3, 50 KO). He’s won the Olympic Gold Medal. He’s rebounded from knockout losses to unify almost all of the titles of notes as a professional. The 36-year old Ukrainian has done it all in boxing.
And, with longevity, he finds himself doing some of it all over again. This Saturday, he gets his second challenge from 40-year old Tony Thompson (36-2, 24 KO). When first they clashed, Klitschko scored an eleventh round knockout. Thompson won five in a row by knockout to get a second chance.
Not many Heavyweight Champions stick around long enough to turn back the same challengers twice. If there is a palpable lack of excitement about the encounter, even with Thompson giving Klitschko one of his more spirited recent challengers, it might be the recognition from fans of how little chance Thompson has this weekend.
It’s not just the aesthetic of seeing Thompson felled once before or Klitschko’s 15-fight win streak. History almost universally dictates challengers who don’t get it done the first time at Heavyweight don’t turn the tables in a sequel. For Thompson, history is not on his side.
In the gloved era, the lessons in futility stretch back over a century.
In May 1900, the man who really kicked off the gloved era with his upset of the great John L. Sullivan, Jim Corbett, attempted to become the first man to regain the crown. Corbett challenged former sparring partner and ascendant star Jim Jeffries. It almost went his way. Corbett built a substantial lead on the cards and looked on his way to a decision in the scheduled 25-round affair.
Jeffries changed the course of events. Posting a furious rally, he knocked Corbett cold in the 23rd round. The dramatic finish left fans wanting more.
They, and Corbett, got it in August 1903. By then in his later 30s, Corbett was no match for Jeffries. He endured a savage beating, surviving on courage and guile until his corner ended the bout in round ten.
Corbett’s failure set a template for many to follow.
Tommy Burns received multiple challenges from two men. Hall of Famer Philadelphia Jack O’Brien fell short in November 1906 shot with a draw in twenty rounds, only to lose the decision outright over the same distance in May of the following year. It was a far more notable fate that what Bill Squires suffered, stopped in three challenges of Burns. If Squires is to get some credit, it is in lasting longer in each progressive shot, falling in the first, the eighth, and finally the 13th.
The ranks of two-time losers swelled considerably in the reign of Joe Louis. “The Brown Bomber” bested Arturo Godoy twice in 1940, first over the distance and then in eight. Abe Simon was stopped in 13 and six in 1941 and 42. Buddy Baer knocked Louis out of the ring in 1941 only to be pasted before losing on a foul in seven. A rematch in 1942 ended in the first. Billy Conn was Louis’s most famed rival, nearly taking the crown in 1941 before suffering a 13th round knockout. He offered far less resistance in their war-delayed 1946 rematch, sent stiff in eight.
By all accounts, the last entrant in the Louis club earned the honors in his first crack. “Jersey” Joe Walcott dropped Louis twice In December 1947 and Louis was so sure he’d lost he was already heading for the showers when he was announced the victor. The controversy cast a pall on the sport and the rematch was made for June 1948. Walcott dropped the aging Louis again and built a lead on the cards only to fall victim to a classic Louis finish in the eleventh.
Ezzard Charles defeated Walcott for the title Louis vacated and defeated Walcott in defense of the crown before becoming the glimmer of hope for Thompson to look back on as he prepares for Klitschko.
Facing Walcott for the third time in July 1951, Charles was clipped with one of the great single shots ever thrown, separated from his senses and crown in the seventh.
Charles would go on to join the twice-vexed ranks in two spirited challenges of Rocky Marciano in 1954. In the first, Charles went the distance; in the second, he split Marciano’s nose wide open and was on the verge of a stoppage win before Marciano let loose the hounds for a savage eighth-round knockout.
The last man to join the club, in a lineal sense, was Evander Holyfield. While he held more belts (WBA/IBF) heading into his bout with Lennox Lewis (WBC), it was Lewis who wore history’s mantle. Lewis defeated Shannon Briggs in 1998, Briggs then holding the distinction of being the man who beat the man dating back to Mike Tyson’s unification of the Heavyweight crown in the 1980s.
Holyfield lost badly to Lewis in their first encounter in March 1999 only for the judges to issue an absurd draw verdict at the end of twelve. While Holyfield performed much better in the November rematch of the same year, it was not enough to turn the tide. Lewis unified the titles and successfully defended his lineal crown fro the third time with a unanimous decision.
There are plenty of other examples of Heavyweights who lost twice to the same man, but to do it both times in title challenges is a rare club. As Thompson makes his final preparations, he can dream of adding his name to Walcott’s.
Klitschko will look to make him a Squire.
The Weekly Ledger
But wait, there’s more…
Rest in Peace Jimmy Bivins: https://www.boxingscene.com/hall-fame-great-jimmy-bivins-passes-away-92--54642
K9 Dogs Spinks: https://www.boxingscene.com/bundrage-sets-focus-on-canelo-blasting-spinks--54531
Updated Ratings: https://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings
Picks of the Week: https://www.boxingscene.com/boxingscenecoms-television-picks-week--54598
Cliff’s Notes… If there is an example besides Walcott of someone making good on a second challenge in a bout for one of the many fractured pieces of the Heavyweight belt picture over the years, feel free to add them to the comments. The focus here was simply on the ‘real’ Heavyweight crown…There are of course those who don’t recognize Wladimir as the lineal king due to the presence of his brother. It’s a fair argument…It would be shocking to think anyone had Cory Spinks ahead of Cornelius Bundrage last weekend, except to remember the year the sport is having in terms of judging. It’s like being trapped with the world’s worst fart in the world’s tiniest elevator on a “Groundhog Day” like loop with no Bill Murray to cut the tension. Eyeglasses for everyone…Is Nonito Donaire-Jeffrey Mathebula going to be the kick in high gear of the next great Jr. Featherweight era? The 122 lb. class has been a great action source for years and is stacked right now. Don’t count out the African in this unification clash.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]