10. Tony Canzoneri vs Al “Bummy” Davis
November 1, 1939, New York
OVERVIEW: Canzoneri was riding a seven-fight winning streak against mediocre opposition, but was clearly past his prime. The 19-year-old Davis, unbeaten in 35 fights, was his era’s version of Arturo Gatti. For Canzoneri, 30, a former feather and super-featherweight world title holder, the contest in Madison Square Garden was a chance to show he was still a championship-calibre fighter.
WHAT WAS EXPECTED: Canzoneri’s 14-year, 170-fight career had caught up to him, but it was expected to be competitive.
WHAT HAPPENED: Davis dropped Canzoneri twice and halted him in three rounds. Canzoneri never fought again.
WHAT IF CANZONERI HAD BEEN HIS PRIME: Canzoneri was a great fighter, Davis merely a very good one. Canzoneri would have won a by a clear decision or a late rounds stoppage.
THE LEGACY AFFECT: Canzoneri is acknowledged as one of the best of a golden era, but we rarely see him on anyone’s all-time best lists. Perhaps the quick loss to Davis has contributed to that.
9. John L. Sullivan vs James J. Corbett
September 7, 1892, New Orleans
OVERVIEW: Despite a questionable lifestyle, the mighty “Boston Strong Boy” was revered. For the people of that era he epitomised everything that a heavyweight champion should be. Corbett was just a boxer; Sullivan a larger than life personality.
WHAT WAS EXPECTED: It was incomprehensible to the public at the time that anyone could defeat Sullivan. Corbett would be another victim, one that the champion would dismiss without a fuss.
WHAT HAPPENED: Sullivan was ill-prepared. On the other hand, Corbett was in magnificent condition. Corbett, clearly underrated, boxed rings around the winded Sullivan who collapsed and was counted out in the 21st round. Sullivan never boxed again.
WHAT IF SULLIVAN HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: The match would have lasted a lot longer, but Corbett still would have likely prevailed. His skill set was much better than Sullivan’s.
THE LEGACY AFFECT: Sullivan continued to be idolised, but would no longer be considered invincible.
8. Benny Leonard vs Jimmy McLarnin
October 7, 1932, New York
OVERVIEW: The stock market crash wiped out all of Leonard’s earnings resulting in a comeback after being away from the ring for seven years. Leonard went 19-0-1 against limited opposition before being matched against McLarnin.
WHAT WAS EXPECTED: McLarnin, a great fighter in his own right, was in top form and expected to win. However, it was thought that Leonard might have enough in the tank to at least put up a credible fight.
WHAT HAPPENED: It was no contest. McLarnin dropped Leonard, 36, in the second round and delivered a one-sided beat down before it was stopped in the sixth. Leonard never fought again.
WHAT IF LEONARD HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: Ray Arcel called Leonard the greatest fighter in boxing history. Considering that he trained Roberto Duran as well that is quite a compliment. Leonard by a close decision would seem to make sense.
THE LEGACY AFFECT: Leonard continued to be revered as one of the best ever, but unfortunately his loss to McLarnin is remembered just as much as any of his victories.
7. Mike Tyson vs Kevin McBride
June 11, 2005, Washington D.C.
OVERVIEW: At age 38, he was Mike Tyson in name only and looking to rebuild (again) following a surprise loss to Danny Williams. McBride an average heavyweight at best and, though big and strong, was widely considered to be just another knockout victim on Tyson’s ledger.
WHAT WAS EXPECTED: Style-wise McBride was made to order for Tyson. Despite Tyson’s diminished skills he was expected to get a much needed victory and sustain his career for a little while longer.
WHAT HAPPENED: Tyson hit the bigger man with everything he had, but could hardly budge him. Tyson’s deterioration was sad to witness. After going down a couple of times from sheer exhaustion, Tyson retired on his stool at the end of the sixth round. He never fought again.
WHAT IF TYSON HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: It would have been an utter mismatch with Tyson prevailing within three rounds.
THE LEGACY AFFECT: None at all. Tyson was and continues to be one of the most polarising figures in boxing history.
6. Carlos Ortiz vs Ken Buchanan
September 20, 1972, New York
OVERVIEW: Former lightweight champ Ortiz was on the comeback trail having registered 10 soft victories in a row. He was originally scheduled to box new king Roberto Duran in a non-title bout. When Duran pulled out, in came Buchanan who had been dethroned by Roberto three months earlier.
WHAT WAS EXPECTED: Virtually everyone agreed that Duran would have annihilated Ortiz, but he might last the distance with Buchanan.
WHAT HAPPENED: The Bronx-based Puerto Rican, 36, suddenly retired on his stool at the end of the sixth. Ortiz said that he was exhausted and would have been knocked out had he continued.
WHAT IF ORTIZ HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: Ortiz was arguably a greater fighter than Buchanan, but movers always gave Ortiz problems. Buchanan would have won a close decision.
THE LEGACY AFFECT: The crowd booed Ortiz out of the ring. Even Buchanan remarked that Ortiz had robbed him of a true victory. It was the only time Ortiz had ever been stopped. He retired, but was not allowed to exit the sport with his head held high.
December 17, 2016, Los Angeles
OVERVIEW: Hopkins made it clear that this was his farewell fight, one intended to let him take one last bow and exit the sport in style. He handpicked Long Island light-heavyweight Smith Jnr who he viewed as very beatable.
WHAT WAS EXPECTED: Because of Hopkins’ age (52), Smith was given a serious chance of spoiling the script, but the odds favoured the former middleweight and light-heavyweight champion.
WHAT HAPPENED: It was competitive, but Smith proved to be too physically strong. Hopkins was knocked out of the ring in the ninth round and failed to beat the referee’s count. It was the first time in his career he had been stopped.
WHAT IF HOPKINS HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: Judging by the success Bernard had landing punches, a youthful version of himself would have probably won a wide points verdict.
THE LEGACY AFFECT: The aura surrounding Hopkins was his ability to defy Father Time. Hopkins tarnished that with the manner in which he came crashing down against Smith.
March 1, 1997, Atlantic City
OVERVIEW: Comebacks were the norm for Leonard so it was no shock to see him return to the ring at age 40, to take on Hector Camacho following a six-year layoff.
WHAT WAS EXPECTED: It is a tribute to Leonard’s greatness that despite his age and inactivity he was installed as a 7-5 favorite. Camacho was still a winning fighter, but his punching prowess had dramatically diminished over the years.
WHAT HAPPENED: Leonard was dropped in the fifth round, then pummelled on the ropes necessitating the stoppage. Reportedly Leonard had suffered a calf injury beforehand. Whatever the reason, his performance was dreadful. It was the first time that Leonard had been stopped. It was his last fight.
WHAT IF LEONARD HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: For sure he would have won, but considering that Camacho never had been stopped in his career, logic says Sugar Ray would have won widely on points.
THE LEGACY AFFECT: None. His great moments fully overshadow the fiasco of the Camacho defeat.
3. Joe Louis vs Rocky Marciano
October 26, 1951, New York
OVERVIEW: Marciano was on the fast track to the heavyweight title, but first had to get by the legendary “Brown Bomber”. Louis who had previously ruled the division for almost 12 years was installed as a 6-5 favorite.
WHAT WAS EXPECTED: Despite the odds, logic said that Marciano should win. However, Louis was riding an eight-fight winning streak leading some to speculate he still had enough left to triumph.
WHAT HAPPENED: It was an even fight for five rounds, but Louis, at 37, could not keep up with the younger, stronger Marciano, 28. Marciano wore Louis down and dropped him twice in the eighth. The second knockdown was dramatic as Louis was sent onto the ring apron, sprawled out on his back. Louis never boxed again.
WHAT IF LOUIS HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: It would have been a great fight. A younger Louis could punch in combination the way an older one couldn’t. The chances are that Louis would have cut Marciano badly enough to force a stoppage by the later rounds.
2. Muhammad Ali vs Larry Holmes
October 2, 1980, Las Vegas
OVERVIEW: Ali had retired on top two years previously, but could not resist the urge to return to the ring. In his former sparring partner Holmes, he was facing the man who had replaced him as the consensus world heavyweight champion.
WHAT WAS EXPECTED: Holmes was at his peak, Ali clearly past his. Holmes was expected to win decisively.
WHAT HAPPENED: It was a thrashing. Holmes dominated nearly every second of the fight, before Angelo Dundee pulled Ali out at the end of the 10th round. Ali would box one more time, being beaten on points by Trevor Berbick.
WHAT IF ALI HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: Holmes was a great fighter so his chances shouldn’t be discounted, but Ali at his peak was a little quicker and better. Ali by decision with room to spare would be the most likely result.
THE LEGACY AFFECT: His standing as the greatest heavyweight of all-time remains. However, the sight of him being beaten up so badly is perhaps the saddest in boxing history.
1. Jim Jeffries vs Jack Johnson
July 4, 1910, Reno
OVERVIEW: Former world heavyweight champion Jeffries returned to the ring after a six-year layoff to try to reclaim the throne from Johnson in a contest that transcended boxing. The term ‘Great White Hope’ originated from this contest.
WHAT WAS EXPECTED: Despite his inactivity, Jeffries was slightly favoured against a peak Johnson. This illogical assumption was based on a combination of racism and Jeffries being viewed as an indestructible force during his title reign.
WHAT HAPPENED: The years of inactivity took a drastic toll on Jeffries who was just a shell of his former self. Johnson toyed with “The Boilermaker” before halting him in the 15th round.
WHAT IF JEFFRIES HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: Jeffries would have given Johnson hell but likely have been defeated.
THE LEGACY AFFECT: More so than any other fighter in the history of boxing. Not only was he ridiculed for failing to uphold the ‘honour’ of the white race, but his standing as a great heavyweight champion was forever diminished as well.