November 17, 2017
November 17, 2017
boxing

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BOXING fans can count their lucky stars in 2017. From Joshua vs Klitschko and Canelo vs Golovkin to the upcoming Lomachenko vs Rigondeaux bout, the fight game has delivered on matches that fans have craved.

Yet we haven’t always been so fortunate. What about the boxers who shared weight divisions and timespans, yet frustratingly never traded blows? These are the best bouts that never materialised over the last quarter-century.

Miguel Cotto vs Ricky Hatton

Back in the early 2000s, when they were the rising forces in the 140lb division, this pair were on a collision course. Two boxers with big fan bases and aggressive styles born just two years apart. Surely they were destined to meet in a tantalising mega-match. Yet these two box office draws had parallel careers without ever crossing paths.

Who ducked whom?

“We would love to come over to England with Cotto and fight Ricky Hatton – right in the belly of the beast in Manchester,” said Bob Arum in 2004. If you believe every word Uncle Bob says (and we do of course), it was Hatton’s side that were cold on the fight. Yet the truth is more pedestrian.

Oddly, there never seemed a ‘right’ time for this fight. The problem lay with the popularity of both boxers and the deep talent pools at 140lb to 147lb; factors which combined to mean that neither man needed to chase the other to make big money. Regretfully, this showdown never happened – to the fault of neither man.

Who’d have won?

Cotto went on to have the better of two fine careers, especially as he rose in weight. Yet had this fight taken place at 140lb, it’s more even. Hatton was at his best in this division, while Cotto could look vulnerable. Exhibit A: his shaky win over DeMarcus Corley in 2005, the same year Hatton brawled to victory over Kostya Tszyu.

Both men shared some strengths (tenacity, body punching, good if not quite wrecking ball power), while Hatton would have brought the pressure to Cotto, who was more comfortable on the back foot. The Puerto Rican, perhaps a notch more polished and versatile likely always had an edge – but all bets are off if it was in a raucous MEN, which basically gave Hatton superpowers.

boxing

Lennox Lewis vs Riddock Bowe

Lewis won his Olympic gold medal against the younger Bowe in the 1988 super-heavyweight final and bad blood always simmered between these elite 1990s big men. A fight between these two would have been a sizzling match-up of two skilled punchers with contrasting personalities; Bowe the charismatic and occasionally fiery American was chalk and cheese to the reserved Brit-via-Canada Lewis.

Who ducked whom?

Bowe infamously dropped his WBC world title belt in the bin in London in December 1992 when Lewis was his mandatory challenger. Both camps blamed each other for negotiations falling through, but the responsibility is squarely laid at Bowe’s door.

Whether Bowe himself – who harboured a real dislike toward his amateur conqueror – didn’t want to face Lewis or whether it was Bowe’s manager Rock Newman picking the path of less resistance is another matter. The dangerous Lewis was then in the ‘who needs him?’ club – and Big Daddy Bowe wasn’t applying for membership.

Who’d have won?

Curiously, Bowe gave up his best chance of victory when he avoided this fight. Lewis looked devastating in blowing away Razor Ruddock in late 1992, but – as his 1994 loss to Oliver McCall showed – he wasn’t the finished article. Bowe, possessed of a fine set of boxing skills and a superior chin to Lewis, could well have won this fight had it taken place in 1993.

Beyond that, when Bowe’s poor conditioning began to betray him, and Emanuel Steward got his hands on Lewis, this fight was only going one way. But – assuming Bowe could have got over any mental hang-ups about facing a man who’d bested him as an amateur – he could well have beaten the 1993-version of Lewis. Yet reluctance to make the fight came clearly from Bowe’s camp, so Lewis is the moral victor of this never-concluded rivalry.

Floyd Mayweather vs Paul Williams

Stay with us here. Even relatives of The Punisher know who the odds-on favourite for this fight would be, but Williams represents a change in Mayweather’s career. Early on, the Pretty Boy took on and beat all-comers: Genaro Hernandez and Angel Manfredy at age just 21; the unbeaten Diego Corrales; a much larger Jose Luis Castillo (twice). Yet as his fame grew, he began to pick his path more carefully.

The earliest signs of Mayweather’s caution came during his 2005/06 move to welterweight. The danger men there were widely perceived to be Paul Williams, Antonio Margarito and a still close to prime Shane Mosley. Mayweather instead fought Sharmba Mitchell, Zab Judah and Carlos Baldomir – then headed to 154lb to face Oscar De La Hoya.

Who ducked whom?

When Mayweather returned to 147lb following his victory over De La Hoya, Williams had established himself as ‘the man’ at welterweight, his impressive CV topped by a win over Margarito. It’s a fight Mayweather was never interested in. After all, he could make more money against smaller foes such as Hatton and Juan Manuel Marquez.

A bout between Mayweather and a 6ft 1in welterweight in his prime with an excellent jab and knockout power would’ve been one for boxing fans to savour. It didn’t happen, yet it’s too harsh to say Mayweather ‘ducked’ Williams. He was just looking for the best risk-reward deals, as most boxers with the power to pick their opponents will do. The Punisher simply did not equate.

Who’d have won?

Williams’s vast physical advantages over Mayweather would have added an extra dimension to this fight. But not a decisive one. Power only counts if you can land it – and the style that has been shown to give Mayweather problems has been a relentless pressure as practised by the likes of Castillo or Marcos Maidana. The smart pick here is Mayweather to do what he always did: figure his opponent out, then win.

boxing

Erik Morales vs Juan Manuel Marquez

What luck to have witnessed four great lighter fighters over the past 20 years whose eras overlapped; three Mexicans and one Filipino. We revelled in Erik Morales vs Marco Antonio Barrera (three times), Morales vs Pacquiao (three times), Marquez vs Pacquiao (four times), Barrera vs Pacquiao (twice) and Barrera vs Marquez (once).

The only two not to lock horns were Marquez and Morales.

Who ducked whom?

Just the details of who these guys did fight – see above – tells you that the only time they ducked, it was to avoid a punch (and Morales rarely even bothered to do that). No, ill-timing alone kept this pair apart. The fact that the popular Morales peaked younger, while Marquez had an Indian summer to his career didn’t help as it meant that – while El Terrible is the younger man – their primes in terms of peak popularity didn’t cross.

Who’d have won?

The fans. Just imagine the fiery warrior Morales against the icy technician Marquez. While Marquez undoubtedly had a longer prime than his fellow Mexican, the version of Morales that beat Manny Pacquiao in 2005 (while Marquez was treading water) might have brought too much intensity for JMM, who could be too calculating for those judges who ‘score aggression’.

Yet the sensible pick is Marquez. Both men could brawl and box if they needed to, but smooth operator Marquez perhaps had a few more wrinkles. Assuming he didn’t get drawn into a toe-to-toe war with his Tijuana foe, Marquez to take enough rounds in a fight that would have touched greatness.

boxing

Felix Trinidad-Ike Quartey

A common theme among ‘missed’ fights is a great generation of talent and two fighters who, for some reason, didn’t cross paths. Among the welterweight days of De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Pernell Whitaker, Ike Quartey and Fernando Vargas in the late 1990s, Ghana’s Bazooka against Puerto Rico’s Tito was a match-up we never saw.

A shame, as a bout between two elite boxers with heavy hands who were sometimes susceptible to being clunked on the jaw by their opponent? Mouth-watering.

Who ducked whom?

Both men were so focused on landing the big fish of their division – De La Hoya – that neither saw the other as a wise career move. Trinidad gladly fought anybody put in front of him. So if any blame is to be attributed here, it probably goes to Quartey – not for ducking anyone, but for being so inactive after his back-and-forth loss to De La Hoya, that his career petered out before we could see him against a full range of opponents. A shame.

Who’d have won?

Quartey had half of the required skillset required to outbox Trinidad – a quick, accurate jab. Yet the other part of the equation was a slick movement and an elusive defence, which is where he rather falls down. You can easily envisage the slow-starting Trinidad being outboxed by Quartey in the first half of the fight – possibly even hitting the canvas. Yet Trinidad finished like a train and Quartey wasn’t always consistent over 12 rounds. Let’s go Tito by late stoppage.

Mike Tyson vs Riddock Bowe

Who’s to say we can’t feature Bowe twice? While Lewis-Bowe came far closer, in fantasy booking terms, this is the true mega-fight that got away. Two boxers who didn’t just share a background, they shared a neighbourhood: born less than a year apart and brought up in the notorious Brownsville area of Brooklyn, Tyson and Bowe were contrasts in how they first came across.

Tyson the intimidating, trash-talking, sawn-off Sonny Liston with menace in his eyes and fists. Bowe – when his temper wasn’t riled – the 6ft 5in amateur stand-out with a grin as large as his appetite and a cheeky Muhammad Ali impression that delighted the press. The contrasts of fighting styles and personalities, but a shared back story, could have made for a nation-stands-still type of showdown, back when being heavyweight champion of the world still made you the king of sport in the USA.

Who ducked whom?

Miserable timing. Tyson’s prime flamed out early; his shock 1990 loss to Buster Douglas came at age 23, in the same month that Bowe was building his pro career to 14-0. When Bowe won the world heavyweight championship from Evander Holyfield in 1992, Tyson was in jail. By the time Iron Mike was released in 1995, Bowe was on his way to eating his way out of the sport (1996 was the year of his two DQ wins over Andrew Golota and subsequent – if not permanent – retirement from boxing).

Simply, the outside the ropes issues both of these men had meant this fight never even came close to happening.

Who’d have won?

Depends entirely on when it took place. Tyson peaked young and would have chewed through the greener Bowe in their youth. Yet post-Douglas, Tyson showed little that suggests he’d have been able to handle a giant with a classy jab who knew how to box. Bowe was never as eye-catching as Tyson, and was maddeningly inconsistent, yet in his trilogy with Holyfield he showed a superb chin and an ability to grind out 12-round results against truly elite opposition that Tyson never did.

Yet, as with all of these fights, the truth is that we’ll never know the real deal answer.

Six more we missed from back in the day…

Throughout the heavyweight heyday of the 1970s, Joe Frazier- Ken Norton was one of the few elite vs elite bouts we never saw, because – get this – the pair were good friends. Bah!

Any combination of the 1990s 160 to 168lb Brits against their American counterparts would have been intriguing. Let’s go with Chris Eubank-James Toney – worth it for the press conferences alone.

Sugar Ray Leonard-Aaron Pryor – injury and the first retirement of the Sugar man, plus the early decline of the Hawk, meant we never got to see this 1980s dream match.

The Hitman takes on The Bodysnatcher – no need to expand on the skills and punch power of Tommy Hearns-Mike McCallum when their nicknames alone sell this never-seen fight.

Jack Dempsey-Harry Wills. The odious ‘colour line’ denied many great black fighters their deserved opportunities. The great Wills never getting a shot at the heavyweight title, despite his no.1 contender status, is just one example among many.

Lastly, who are the two biggest-punching heavyweights ever? George Foreman-Ernie Shavers are certainly in the conversation. One word for this bout: timber!