WITH Filipino ring icon Manny Pacquiao officially booked to take on American Timothy Bradley Jr. on April 12, and with American nemesis Floyd Mayweather Jr. leaning on a possible May duel with either Briton Amir Khan or Argentinean Marcos Maidana, boxing fans are once again hoping the two ring superstars will pull through in their respective bouts if only to keep their long-awaited showdown within the realm of possibility.
While boxing fans have grown weary on the 'will they, won’t they' saga involving Pacquiao and Mayweather, most have not given up on the big fight coming into fruition. “More than damaging to boxing (if the fight does not happen), it’s damaging to their legacy,” mused ring legend Sugar Ray Leonard. “This is for history, for people to say ‘I remember when.’ It is beyond money.”
Of course, if Pacquiao-Mayweather fails to happen, it will not be the first time that a big fight ended in the dustbin. Flipping the pages of history, professional boxing is replete with stories of big fights that did not take place either because of fate or plain cowardice.
The first gloved world heavyweight boxing champion, John L. Sullivan, enjoyed a seven-year reign on the throne (1885-1892) but was heavily criticized for not defending boxing’s most prized title opposite a black fighter.
Before he decided to wear gloves, Sullivan earned fame for being a bare-knuckle champion. In September 1881, four years before he became the heavyweight division’s first gloved champion, Sullivan agreed to a bare-knuckle showdown with George 'Old Chocolate' Godfrey, a black Canadian who was then recognized as the best colored fighter in the world. Boxing’s first dream match was already set when it was inexplicably cancelled at the last minute. The police allegedly stepped in and stopped the fight because bare-knuckle fighting was illegal in the United States. However, there were also loose reports the fighters were stripped naked in the dressing room when Sullivan suddenly announced that he would not fight.
In the 1950s, the two most exciting sluggers in boxing were Americans Rocky Graziano and Jake 'Raging Bull' LaMotta. Both were former world middleweight champions, with Graziano enjoying a brief reign in 1947 and LaMotta in 1949. LaMotta and Graziano were scheduled to fight on June 14, 1950, but the fight never came off. In the end, LaMotta claimed that it was his friendship with Graziano that got in the way.
In March 1987, former heavyweight champion George Foreman did the unthinkable when he returned to boxing after a 10-year hiatus. People laughed at Foreman, but when ‘Big George’ started piling up a huge knockout streak, calls for a blockbuster showdown with then heavyweight star Mike Tyson began to crescendo.
After Tyson lost the heavyweight belt to James Douglas in February 1990, Foreman’s name cropped up in the list of possible comeback foes for Iron Mike. “George Foreman has always been awesome against short guys,” Hall-of-Fame trainer Angelo Dundee told The Ring magazine in its November 1990 issue. “Joe Frazier at his best couldn’t deal with him. He’s a hard guy to reach. It’s gonna take a big man to beat him.”
The Foreman-Tyson ‘brawl-to-end-all brawls’ seemed inevitable until fate got in the way. In March 1992, Tyson was sentenced to six years in prison for raping a beauty contestant. By the time Tyson returned to the ring in 1995, Foreman had already suffered losses to Evander Holyfield and Tommy Morrison.
Another heavyweight dream match that went kaput was the proposed match between then champion Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis. Bowe captured the WBA-WBC-IBF heavyweight crowns in November 1992 when he decisioned Holyfield in 12 rounds.
Following Bowe’s ascension to the throne, Briton Lewis emerged as his mandatory contender. A lot of trash-talking ensued, with Lewis blurting statements like, “I’ll break Bowe’s jaw and shut him up” and Bowe countering that he will torture Lewis if they meet in the ring. The big fight did not happen because Bowe turned chicken-livered.
When Lewis became the WBC’s top contender, Bowe relinquished the belt and opted to defend his remaining belts against a slew of patsies. Lewis picked up the WBC belt Bowe literally threw in the trash can in May 1993 and built his own legacy.
Oh, for those unaware, Lewis knocked out Bowe in two rounds in the 1988 Olympics. Guess this explains why Bowe never wanted a part of Lewis in the pro ranks.
There are just some big fights that are destined to remain in the figment of the imagination. Make no mistake, though, boxing fans are hoping against hope that Pacquiao-Mayweather will not suffer the same fate. Mayweather recently announced that he will fight until September 2015, giving the big fight with Pacquiao, at the very least, a definite timetable to happen.