By: Sean Crose
And so this Saturday evening in California, Tyson Fury, undefeated fighter, one-time heavyweight kingpin, and – in the opinion of some, at least – still lineal heavyweight champion of the world, will step back into the ring to attain lost glory. His opponent will be WBC heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder, a thunderously hard punching American who, like Fury, is far more skilled than he’s been given credit for. What makes this bout particularly interesting is the fact that Fury went over two years without a fight after winning the heavyweight crown by shocking Wladimir Klitschko back in 2015. What’s more, he’s only had two matches – against less than stellar opposition – since returning to the sport.
During his time away from the ring, Fury drank, drugged, ate, and fell into a profoundly deep depression. He argues that he’s pulled out of his funk since that time (here’s hoping he truly has) and that he’s ready to shock the world. Perhaps he will. Yet it’s worth considering the fact that Fury is only the latest in a line of former heavyweight rulers who came back to attain past glory. Most have failed – though there’s at least one who was able to return in stunning and glorious fashion. Only time will tell on which side of the equation Furry will end up on. Until then, let’s take a look at some others who have found themselves on the same path Fury does now.
Way back, on the Fourth of July, 1910, a former feared and undefeated heavyweight champion named James J Jeffries stepped back into the ring after more than five years to try to wrest the heavyweight crown away from Jack Johnson, the world’s first black heavyweight champ. Jeffries was able to lose over a hundred pounds before the bout, but he wasn’t able to satisfy the white supremacists who wanted a Caucasian heavyweight kingpin. Johnson easily won the fight. It’s been claimed that Jeffries later admitted that, had he been in his prime, he still couldn’t have bested Johnson. He may well have been right.
Flash forward seven decades, to Muhammad Ali’s nearly tragic October 1980 attempt to win back the title after two years away from the ring. Larry Holmes may have previously been Ali’s sparring partner, but eight years before he himself fell victim to a younger champ, Holmes performed a one sided shellacking of the man known as the “Greatest.” Even the victorious Holmes, perhaps the greatest heavyweight titlist aside from Ali, was said to be profoundly depressed by the experience.
Then, on January 22nd, 1988, it was Holmes who decided to return to boxing, after a span of close to two years, in an attempt to regain his crown. His opponent? The feared and dominant undisputed boss of the big men, Mike Tyson. The world was promised a ready Holmes, but, although the “Easton Assassin” had a brief moment or two, Tyson destroyed the older man within four rounds in Atlantic City.
Yet there was one who was able to come back to the ring after a prolonged absence and regain the heavyweight crown. That man? Big George Foreman. Young people today may see Foreman as a ubiquitous pop culture figure, but as a young man, Foreman was truly a force to be reckoned with. Muahmmad Ali put an end to his glory train in 1973, but Foreman was able to return in the late 80s, and eventually, amazingly, win back the heavyweight championship a full 21 years after he had first won it against Joe Frazier. To put things in perspective:
Foreman was 24 years old and 217.5 pounds when he first won the title. When he won it again, he was 45 years old and a good thirty plus pounds heavier- a stunning feat by anyone’s standards.
A Fury victory on Saturday wouldn’t be nearly as stunning as Foreman’s comeback win against Michael Moorer back in 94, but considering the weight of his demons, and the 150 or so pounds he’s said to have taken off, it would quite the feat nonetheless.