The Anthony Joshua vs Tyson Fury saga is nothing compared to other comedies the heavyweight division has staged in years gone by, writes Steve Bunce
STOP moaning about lost heavyweight fights, please. Instead, consider for a minute all the heavyweights who have been ignored, forgotten and rejected by champions. And all the men with no right to be in a fight for the heavyweight championship of the world. The chaos of the Fury vs Joshua arbitration knockout would struggle to make my top 20 comedies, injustices and just outright acts of larceny in heavyweight championship history. Just a few hours before the news that Tyson Fury had been ordered to fight Deontay Wilder a third time, there was a WBA abomination with the Lovejoy vs Manny Charr fiasco in Cologne. Ian McShane would have been a better challenger than that Lovejoy.
Where to start, where to end with any compilation of heavyweight craziness? It’s not just a list of infamy, packed with undeserving, unknown and outclassed boxers suddenly finding themselves in a truly alien and hostile place. Many no-hopers have gone down swinging, having grabbed their chance with both fists. We have the Rocky franchise for a reason.
Tom McNeeley dropped eleven times against Floyd Patterson in 1961, Dave Zyglewicz against Joe Frazier done in just 96 seconds in 1969 and either Jean Pierre Coopman or Richard Dunn against Muhammad Ali both in 1976. Not a prayer, but they each arrived in new shorts, with their loved ones, their dreams, a magician in Dunn’s case and they went out, from the opening bell, like the small-town heroes they were. I think Coopman had a Shaman with him, or was working with some type of hippy spiritualist. They were all messy endings, nasty and they were bad fights.
One night in Moscow in 2006, at a time when Wladimir Klitschko held two belts and Shannon Briggs had one, Peter Okello of Kampala fought Oleg Maskaev for the WBC title. How? Big Oleg had stopped Hasim Rahman for the title and would lose it to Samuel Peter in 2008. This was all just a few years ago, not a fight from the days of shame when black fighters could not get a shot or the days when paranoid managers simply ignored anybody with a pulse or the years when there was simply no desire to let good fighters fulfil their dreams. As an aside, Rahman’s rambling, walking, talking sham of a fight to Alexander Povetkin for the WBA title in 2012 is high on my toxic chart.
Anyway, Okello, who was known as The Letter O, was fresh from a win over Big Bob Mirovic; the same Bob Mirovic who beat Joe Bugner once and was blasted by Matt Skelton at York Hall. At the time, Scott Gammer was the British heavyweight champion and I would have backed him heavily against The Letter O.
Francesco Damiani, the big Italian fighting hero, was the first WBO belt-holder, beating South Africa’s Jonny Du Plooy in 1989, which was not a great fight. Du Plooy had been stopped by an ancient Renaldo Snipes a few months earlier. Damiani would get blasted by Ray Mercer in 1991 and lose the title, but not before he tangled with the pride of Argentina, Daniel Eduardo Neto. Neto was a cruiser and it lasted just 64 seconds of the second round. Big Franco still looked like a Fifties film star, a bruising matinee idol with his wild hair and open-neck shirt. I bet there was some party that night.
Sticking with the WBO: How about Razvan Cojanu of Romanian? Wow, he went 12 rounds with Joseph Parker in 2017. Herbie Hide had a couple of beauties in the late Nineties. Hide also had two horrible hidings for the WBO in those early days and the beatings against Riddick Bowe and Vitali Klitschko only add to Hide’s enigma. It was at about this time that Lennox Lewis simply refused to accept the WBO title as legitimate. I think he was wrong, but I can see what he meant.
I will take Oleksandr Usyk against Anthony Joshua, thank you.
It was not just the WBO, look at the duo the WBA and WBC sanctioned against Frazier in 1972. It was just a year after the Fight of the Century and it’s hard to believe they took place in the same decade as the heavyweight division’s most iconic fights. After a long, long rest, Frazier stopped Terry Daniels and Ron Stander in a busy few months. The dream, by Frazier’s team, was that George Foreman would just vanish, start wrestling grizzly bears for fun, get arrested for eating cars or something sinister would happen to him.
So, against the menacing backdrop of Foreman prowling angrily and calling for a Frazier fight, Daniels and Stander against Frazier are truly mystifying. Both Daniels and Stander were tough men, brave, limited and fought dozens of really hard and seasoned heavyweights during their careers. They are the antithesis of the cotton-wool gang now; the sport could really do with a few more hardened fighters like these two. They never said no, won and lost, got knocked out, got on the beer, fought again for State titles, a bit of pride and a few bucks. They finished their careers losing a combined 51 times, including 23 by knockout, elbow, submission, loss of blood and any other of the legal methods used in victory by heavyweights in boxing’s dirty backwaters.
In 1975 Stander met Daniels – no WBC belt, which is a pity – and the Battle of the Bad Challengers finished in the first with Stander as the King. A decade after fighting Frazier for the world title, Stander lost on the pirate circuit in London to Roy Shaw. I guess it was pretty.
Owen Beck losing to Nikolai Valuev for the WBA in 2006 is a contender. Ruslan Chagaev beating the fighting pride of Costa Rica, Carl Davis Drumond, in 2009 for the WBA belt is another contender. Before the Chagaev mismatch, Drumond was unbeaten in 26, comic testimony to the power of matchmaking; Beck, once of Brendan Ingle’s gym in Sheffield, had lost twice but had wins over Luke Simpkin of Swadlincote and Mike Middleton. Yep, that Mike, the man who interrupted his career as an undercover security guard – he dressed as Mickey Mouse at Disney World – to fight Audley Harrison one night in 2001.
So, moan if you like, but it’s really not that bad.