It’s Not Over Until I Say So: 10 Boxers Who Avenged Kayo Losses
By Martin Mulcahey, MaxBoxing (May 30, 2012) Special to Doghouse Boxing
Lennox Lewis
I am a bit of a contrarian. Therefore, as writers and fans compose the obituary to Lucian Bute’s career after his first loss, I am of the mind that one setback does not doom a person to the scrap heap of history. Admittedly, Bute endured a sound drubbing in which he was never able to gain a foothold and even seemed out of his depth. As the 10 instances (and I could have listed many more) I will refer to show, it is not impossible to reverse a knockout loss. In fact, many boxers have established Hall of Fame careers for themselves in doing so. Remember, it is not a loss that defines the man but how he bounces back from it.

This is not a definitive list; instead, I chose match-ups that spanned the long history of boxing, so as not give the impression that this type of thing only happened in the early part of the 20th century. Of course, that would have been easy since there were many more revenge matches in the 1920s through 1950s. Why? Because a knockout loss in those eras were not something to be ashamed of since boxers were matched tough. Too often in this day and age, in search of perfection, boxers are not given an opportunity to assess a loss and improve from it. These boxers faced tremendous mental hurdles, making their triumphs over a previous conqueror all the sweeter.

Some noteworthy rematches I omitted are Ike Williams against Bob Montgomery, Archie Moore versus Jimmy Bivins, Gene Fullmer over Sugar Ray Robinson, Terry Norris against Simon Brown, Ruben Olivares versus Jesus “Chucho” Castillo and Daniel Zaragoza over Paul Banke.

1. Joe Louis KO 12 by Max Schmeling (1936)

The First Fight – It was a one-sided but exciting affair, with Louis rallying but consistently running into a Schmeling right hand that put him down in the fourth and 12th rounds (three times total). It was voted “Fight of the Year” by The Ring magazine and Schmeling confidently stated, “I see something” when asked why he should not be a 10-1 underdog. What he saw was that Louis brought back his left hand low after a jab, which he countered expertly with a right hand over the top to win the fight.

The Rematch – Maybe the most brutally comprehensive destruction of one Hall of Famer by another with Louis only taking one round to dispatch his previous conqueror. Louis landed a right hand that fractured two vertebrae in Schmeling’s back and it was all over after that punch. Louis followed up and pounded Schmeling to the canvas twice more. Schmeling was unable to rise after the third knockdown and in so much pain that the German radio broadcast was cut off so his groans of agony could not be heard by the German public.

Why the Outcome Was Different – Social and political intrigues aside, Louis wanted personal redemption. With great boxers, you can point to one night where everything came together to make them unbeatable and this was the night for “The Brown Bomber.” Schmeling had other worries like Joseph Goebbels holding his Czechoslovakian wife, Anny Ondra, hostage to ensure Schmeling would not defect while in America. Even if Schmeling was 100%, he could not have beaten this laser-focused Louis, it was never going to end differently. Louis had everything to fight for while Schmeling suffered from many distractions entering the fight and just plain suffered afterward, remaining hospitalized for 10 days.

2. Henry Armstrong TKO 12 by Fritzie Zivic (1941)

The First Fight – In their very first meeting, Zivic won a questionable 15-round decision and the world title with a big 15th round, dropping Armstrong just before the final bell. In the second fight (three months later), it was in the 12th round where Zivic battered a bloodied and exhausted Armstrong until referee Arthur Donovan stepped in. In both fights, the naturally larger Zivic made use of his strength on the inside as well as a vast arsenal of borderline and outright illegal tactics.

The Rematch – This time, Armstrong was more effective on the inside, using an unrelenting body attack against the less mobile Zivic, staying close to protect cuts to his eyes opened by Zivic’s head. The bodywork got to Zivic, who resorted to headhunting and was not able to land against an Armstrong consistently falling in with his punches. It was a close fight but the judges ruled for Armstrong unanimously.

Why the Outcome Was Different – In previous fights, Armstrong wilted late (amazing given his reputation for stamina) against Zivic, unable to outwork a foe who was a trickier boxer then given credit for. This could have been down to Armstrong’s hectic schedule, where Armstrong defended the welterweight title five times in six months, moving up in weight to challenge middleweight world champion Ceferino Garcia as well. In their final meeting, the fight was only 10 rounds, allowing Armstrong to keep his high pace for the entire fight.

3. Rocky Graziano KO 6 by Tony Zale (1946)

The First Fight – Graziano was caught cold, knocked to the canvas in the first round but rebounded in the second, knocking Zale down at the bell. Over the next four rounds, Zale and Graziano took turns beating on each other in a see-saw affair. In the sixth, a right to the stomach followed by a left hook ended the fight in favor of Zale. It was The Ring magazine’s “Fight of the Year” and voted “Fight of the Decade” by the same publication.

The Rematch – This time, it was Graziano scoring the knockout, happily on the winning end of the fight voted 1947’s “Fight of the Year” by The Ring magazine. 10 months had passed and it looked like Graziano was going to lose again after getting floored first in the third round. Zale continued having the better of the fight but a left hook put Zale on Queer Street and Graziano saw his chance. A desperate Graziano attacked wildly with a stream of punches ringsiders estimated to be 30 unanswered blows. 

Why the Outcome Was Different – One punch was the difference as it looked like Zale was going to get the better of Graziano again. However, Graziano had the mindset to risk his entire reserve of stamina, knowing this would be the only chance for victory. Graziano’s willingness to risk everything when the opportunity presented itself was the deciding factor.

4. Willie Pep KO 4 by Sandy Saddler (1948)

The First Fight – A surprising blowout of a defensive genius like Pep was not supposed to happen but Pep was knocked down twice in the third for nine counts and counted out in the fourth round. Pep had been champion for six years and entered with a 135-1-1 record but said he was complacent and underestimated Saddler afterward. However, there is no underestimating the murderous punch Saddler caught Pep with to begin the downfall.

The Rematch – Pep was a great competitor who was mortified by the way he lost; it crystallized Pep’s focus for a rematch three months later. It was a career-best performance, considering it came against an opponent who had Pep’s number and was a stylistic nightmare. Pep employed a herky-jerky, unorthodox style throwing punches from wild angles and confusing Saddler into inactivity. That changed once Saddler found his own rhythm (busting up Pep’s face) but it came too late to save the title with Pep winning by scores of 10-5, 9-5-1, and 9-6.

Why the Outcome Was Different – Pep went against his tendencies, forgoing a beautiful boxing style to befuddle Saddler and win early rounds that were crucial to winning on the scorecards Pep assumed it would come down too. This was a case of Pep deviating from what was expected of him, understanding that defusing an opponent’s strength is just as important as enforcing your own.

5. Floyd Patterson KO 3 by Ingemar Johansson (1959)

The First Fight – Everything was going according to plan for the speedier Patterson until the third round when Johansson exploded, scoring seven knockdowns! Johansson only had one plan entering the fight: do whatever it took to land his big right hand. Once it did, Patterson was unable to recover and Europe had its first heavyweight champion in 25 years.

The Rematch – So perfect and impactful was the punch that Patterson knocked Johansson out with that some veteran boxing writers thought Patterson had killed him with the punch. This time, Patterson fixated on Johansson’s overhand right, avoiding it long enough to score a fifth round kayo. The rematch was voted 1960’s “Fight of the Year” by The Ring magazine and Patterson became the first heavyweight champion to ever regain the world title.

Why the Outcome Was Different – Being the heavyweight champion in the 1960s was much different then, the distractions more encompassing with Johansson making cameos in movies and getting engaged to girlfriend Birgit Lundgren. Johansson was never a dedicated trainer and found the distractions too much. Meanwhile, Patterson (like a “Rocky” movie script) was training like a man possessed to get his crown back. One man was simply better prepared to win the rematch.

6. Bobby Chacon TKO 9 by Ruben Olivares (1973) and TKO 2 by Olivares (1975)

The First Fight – Olivares was a hard-partying former champion whose scalp the undefeated kid wanted on his résumé. The plan backfired after Olivares survived the first two rounds, then took Chacon into deep waters to drown him. From the third round on, Olivares timed and countered a perplexed foe, knocking down Chacon in the ninth and brutalizing him to force Chacon’s manager to stop the fight. Two years later, it only took Olivares two rounds to stop Chacon, knocking him down twice in the second round and swarming him until referee Larry Rozadilla stopped the fight.

The Rematch-Rematch – It took Chacon two years to overcome the first loss and another two years after the second kayo before he got Olivares in his sights a third time. The third fight was all Chacon, knocking down Olivares in the second round and pushing him on his back foot with forward momentum. Olivares had his moments in the middle rounds but never sustained his punch output, resorting to potshots.

Why the Outcome Was Different – Chacon matured while Olivares got old and the fight took place one weight class above the other two Chacon setbacks. Another factor was that Chacon had hired master trainer Eddie Futch. Chacon also reversed a kayo loss to Cornelius Boza-Edwards. In the final analysis, Chacon was a hardheaded little SOB with a mentality that he would fight you until he beat you.

7. Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez KO 7 by Michael Carbajal (1993)

The First Fight – In another The Ring magazine “Fight of the Year,” Gonzalez showed superior, early punching power, knocking down Carbajal in the second and fifth rounds. Gonzalez was bossing the fight but taking chances, going for the stoppage, he pinned Carbajal along the ropes when a vicious counter left hook sent him to the canvas. Gonzalez never recovered from the punch he didn’t see coming and with one second remaining in the seventh round, Carbajal knocked out Gonzalez while trailing on all scorecards.

The Rematch – Gonzalez figured out that discretion is the better part of valor, using his legs and counterpunching to box his way to a victory against an overaggressive foe trying to emulate his first kayo victory. The strategy worked twice as Gonzalez outboxed Carbajal a second time, winning their three-fight series 2-1.  

Why the Outcome Was Different – Intelligence trumps emotion. Gonzalez accepted the crowds boos, keeping distance between him and a hotheaded Carbajal, trying to take his head off while countering beautifully. Carbajal was every bit the intelligent boxer to Gonzalez but wanted to replicate the first fight at the expense of losing the last two. Carbajal can console himself knowing fans only remember their first fight which was one for the ages!

8. Lennox Lewis KO 5 by Hasim Rahman (2001)

The First Fight – The distracted champion flew to South Africa late (after shooting a boxing scene with Wladimir Klitschko for the “Ocean's Eleven” movie) and un-acclimating to the elevation showed as Rahman found his range. Lewis even began taunting Rahman, which stopped when Rahman landed a flush overhand right that sent the 15-1 favorite on his backside. It was an even fight to that point, with both men’s defense suffering and each fully committing to punches because of it.

The Rematch – This time Lewis was in shape and focused, showing the kind of attitude and aggression his trainer Emanuel Steward always wanted but rarely got. Needing revenge, Lewis got a rematch seven months later and scored a stoppage one round sooner than he was stopped. This time Lewis dominated, his timing much improved and he entered with the confidence of a champion despite being the challenger. 

Why the Outcome Was Different – Lewis was no longer the complacent champion and, understanding what a victory meant to his legacy, put on a show. Lewis also reversed a kayo loss to Oliver McCall; an intelligent boxer, Lewis learned from mistakes and took it out on the boxers who exploited those faults in their first meetings.

9. Felix Sturm TKO 10 by Javier Castillejo (2006)

The First Fight – It seemed Sturm had recovered from a hard, second round knockdown, edging ahead on the scorecards, when Castillejo caught Sturm in the 10th round again with a barrage of punches. This time, a tiring Sturm did not escape and Castillejo chased Sturm with a barrage of punches (a short left hook followed by left uppercuts) until referee Mark Nelson caught Sturm as he fell to the canvas, helplessly. A great jabber, Sturm fought Castillejo’s inside fight, falling prey to the Spaniard’s superior physical power.

The Rematch – Nine months later, Sturm played the role of matador to Castillejo’s bull, jabbing and pivoting around his charges, landing counterpunches. Sturm did not have it all his way; because of Castillejo’s constant forward movement and bullying, he inched his way back into the fight. After catching a second wind in the 10th round, Sturm reasserted his jab and won a decision.

Why the Outcome Was Different – Distance. In the first fight, Sturm could not control it and suffered the consequences, eating short hooks he could not block. Sturm was also knocked down hard in the first fight and it took him a while to recover and find his legs expending a lot of energy. That came back to haunt him in the championship rounds and did not play into the rematch. 

10. Miguel Cotto TKO 11 by Antonio Margarito (2008)

The First Fight – Margarito ate punches for six rounds before bludgeoning a damaged Cotto, catching up with his fatiguing opponent whose face became a horrible mass of blood and swelling. As Margarito caught up to Cotto, he began to brutalize his immobile foe, finally enforcing his size and strength advantages. The controversy for this fight did not surface until six months later, when Margarito was exposed as a cheat, attempting to load his gloves with illegal, hardened padding in his hand wraps against Shane Mosley.

The Rematch – This time, there was no late-round fade or massive facial damage to Cotto and a confident Cotto stayed on his toes the entire fight, moving and hitting Margarito at will. Margarito was unable to catch Cotto or put him to the ropes and corner. Unable to stay in range offensively, Margarito followed Cotto eating punches instead of cutting off the ring. A comprehensive beating which resembled the first six rounds of their first fight.

Why the Outcome Was Different – Revenge! Cotto honestly felt he was the better fighter if both men entered the ring on even terms and showed it with a brilliant display of movement, accuracy and swagger. This fight is, for many, proof that Antonio Margarito had been entering fights with loaded gloves for much of his career.
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