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Buncey’s BOXXER Bulletin: 5 Fights We Lost Forever

In this week’s column, veteran columnist Steve Bunce looks at five great fights that would have changed history and were tantalisingly close to crossing the line, but ultimately never happened. What are your top five lost fights and why?

Last week it was all about five fights we want to see now and this week it is all about five fights that we will never see.

These are not fantasy fights, these nearly happened and they should have taken place. Now they are gone forever.

We deserved these fights: they were talked about, plans were made, contracts exchanged, promises broken… and then they just collapsed. 

These fights could have changed boxing history. They could have changed the way we look at certain fighters. 

In 1974, in Africa at dawn, George Foreman was knocked out by Muhammad Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle. Foreman chased and chased Ali for a rematch.

‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ between Ali and Foreman is one of the most famed fights of all time. Ali knocked out Foreman in the 8th round, having entered the fight as an underdog. / Credit: AP

“He ignored me, perhaps it was personal,” Foreman said in 1977. Foreman took out full-page adverts in newspapers.

It was a natural rematch, surely? Could Ali pull off another miracle? Anyway, later in 1977, Foreman lost to Jimmy Young and left boxing for ten years to take his bible on the road. Ali lost his world title in 1978. And Foreman won it back in 1994.

Ali and Foreman became good friends, but we never got the fight.

Sticking at heavyweight, what about Lennox Lewis against Riddick Bowe? This was very close to being made several times. Both sides blame the other and there is probably some truth in the accusations. It was nasty at times. 

Their camps were run by mavericks and confrontational people – it was fun being anywhere near Rock Newman with Bowe and Kellie Maloney, then simply known as Frank, with Lewis.

Lewis had beaten Bowe in the Olympic final in 1988 and they had both won world heavyweight titles as professionals. They clashed, they watched each other fight, there was talk of venues, fees, rematches. It never happened; it was a great shame.

Lewis and Bowe will never be good friends, trust me.

Lewis triumphed over Bowe in their amateur contest at the 1988 Olympics, though the pair never met as professionals / Credit: Manny Millan

At middleweight, in the last fifty years, nothing comes close to Marvin Hagler and Herol ‘Bomber’ Graham.

Hagler was world champion for seven years and Graham was his unbeaten, leading and undisputed number one challenger for five of those years. During Hagler’s reign, Graham beat 24 men, stopping 17 and winning title fights over 15 rounds. Herol was a great pro and nobody wanted to fight him; Hagler was not interested, that’s a fact. Hagler was smart. 

Nobody was Hagler’s friend, trust me.

Herol Graham (right) is considered one of the best British boxers to never win a world title

If you want the nastiest fight that came really close, but never happened, then look no further than Tony Ayala against Roberto Duran in 1983. This would have been one of the greatest fights ever. I’m not kidding. The rematch would have been ever better! 

Here’s the background: Ayala was just 19, unbeaten in 22 fights with 19 ending early, when in December 1982, he signed to fight Davey Moore for the world light-middleweight title. After the signing, Ayala was walking through Manhattan when he saw Duran – Ayala told me that he chased Duran. There was a lot of hate in Tony Ayala. 

Anyway, in late December of 1982, Ayala was arrested and sentenced to 35-years; he served 16. It was a bad assault on a female neighbour. In 2015, after a comeback or two, a breakdown or two, an arrest or two, Ayala took his own life.

Ayala (left) made an unremarkable comeback in 1999 after 16 years in prison, and is considered one of the most wasted natural talents in boxing as a result of his personal troubles / Credit: AP

In 1983, Duran stepped in for Ayala and knocked out Moore. Ayala would have been the fifth king in the Four Kings gang.

Ayala never had any friends.

At the start of 2001 just four pounds in weight separated unbeaten world champions Naseem Hamed and Floyd Mayweather.

Mayweather told me in March of that year about a plan to fight Hamed – Hamed told me the year before that a Mayweather fight was in his plans.

A young ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd Mayweather puts on a scintillating display against Diego Corrales in 2001 / Credit: Getty Images

At the time, Mayweather was WBC super-featherweight champion with 25 wins, Hamed the WBO featherweight champion with 35 wins. Now that is a fight we lost.

However, in April of 2001, Hamed lost to Marco Antonio Barrera and that was basically it for him. There is a real sense of loss with this magical fight. Hamed v Mayweather at the MGM in Las Vegas… it sounds like a fantasy, it was nearly real.

It is a struggle to put these lost fights in any order, they would have all been epic.

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