The Best Boxing Matches That Never Happened

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Aug 16, 2012
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I’m often asked about the fights I wanted to see that never happened. Unfortunately, there have been too many over the years, but a few stand out as causing way more disappointment than others.
Probably the biggest letdown, at least in my time as a fight fan, is that Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis never fought as pros. Ideally, the fight would have been for Bowe’s undisputed heavyweight title in 1993, when Lewis was his WBC mandatory challenger. Bowe had beaten Evander Holyfield in their first fight to win the undisputed crown and confronted Lewis at ringside after the bout. Lewis was supposed to be next up, but Bowe instead stood before the cameras and literally threw that belt in a trash can and blatantly ducked the man who knocked him out in the 1988 Olympic gold medal match.
Another one from before my time covering boxing was another heavyweight fight that would have been massive: Mike Tyson vs. George Foreman in 1990 or 1991. They even appeared together on the same June 1990 HBO card co-promoted by rivals Bob Arum of Top Rank and Don King in what was supposed to be a prelude to the eventual fight. But after Tyson’s next fight his contract with HBO was up and he and King bolted to Showtime, where Tyson had two fights with Razor Ruddock, went to prison on a rape conviction and that was that for a possible Tyson-Foreman showdown.
Here are some other fights that were in high demand but never took place in the years since I began covering boxing in 2000:
Sergey Kovalev vs. Adonis Stevenson to unify light heavyweight titles anytime from 2013 to 2015, but especially after Kovalev had routed Bernard Hopkins in late 2014 to unify three belts and Stevenson was there with the lineal title and the fourth belt. They were mostly knocking everyone out. They were 1-2 in whichever order you wanted to put them at 175 pounds. They both were with HBO, which was pouring money into them and Kovalev had even fought on a Stevenson undercard in Quebec City in late 2013 to help build up the anticipated showdown. Their promoters were friendly and there were no sanctioning body issues either. A deal was eventually agreed to but Stevenson declined to sign and instead took off to join adviser Al Haymon’s stable at Showtime.

Yuriorkis Gamboa vs. Juan Manuel Lopez to unify featherweight titles. The potential pairing between these ultra exciting 2004 Olympians was all the rage from 2009 to 2011. They were both undefeated and with Top Rank, which was building toward the fight by placing them on the same card twice in a row. They even faced the same opponent in tough-as-nails Rogers Mtagwa. Lopez faced him on the first doubleheader with Gamboa in October 2009 and Gamboa faced him on the next one in January 2010. Gamboa and Lopez both wanted big money, so Arum told me at ringside after the second doubleheader that he would let the fight “marinate” and that he would “cook” it until it was big enough to satisfy everyone. The strategy failed miserably when Lopez unexpectedly got knocked out — twice — by Orlando Salido.

Anthony Joshua vs. Deontay Wilder for the undisputed heavyweight title in 2018 or 2019, when they were both undefeated and 1-2 in the division. They came close to a deal more than once but it never happened and then they both eventually got knocked out by other opponents, leaving a nine-figure fight and a historic summit meeting to go by the wayside. Plenty of blame to go around. Maybe it will still happen down the road but it will never be what it should have been.

Erik Morales vs. Juan Manuel Marquez. As I have opined here before it still upsets me to this day that a fight between these Mexican warriors never happened as it remains the only fight of a glorious round robin that never happened involving those two, Manny Pacquiao and Marco Antonio Barrera.

Nonito Donaire vs. Abner Mares when they both held junior featherweight titles. There was plenty of fan interest in 2012 and 2013 but all we got was a lot of lip service, rhetoric from both sides and media stunt offers at the height of the Top Rank/Golden Boy cold war. I’ve always thought it would have been a classic battle.

Kelly Pavlik vs. Arthur Abraham to unify middleweight titles. This was a super hot fight with big fan interest in 2008 and 2009. Pavlik had knocked out Jermain Taylor to win the lineal/unified middleweight title and Abraham was in Germany knocking everyone out defending his middleweight belt. The sides talked and it looked like they might fight on the same card ahead of the showdown but even the doubleheader never happened and it still ticks me off.

Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao somewhere between 2009 and 2012, when demand was at a fever pitch. They were beating all the same elite opponents, both were huge pay-per-view draws, both were with HBO and universally 1-2 pound-for-pound with nobody else even in the conversation. Yeah, fine, it finally happened in 2015 after an exhausting wait, but it was nowhere near the fight it should have been. Don’t ever let anyone try to con you and tell you that it didn’t matter if the fight was in 2010 — the ideal moment — or 2015 because at least it did happen. Timing is everything.

Here are some in-demand fights that appear headed down the wrong road and could someday make the above list.
Let’s put aside for the moment Tyson Fury-Joshua for the undisputed heavyweight title, the most significant fight that can be made in boxing right now. The sides say they have signed a two-fight deal but is one that doesn’t have true weight to it because for there to actually be a fight certain conditions with regard to gate revenue have to be met and they haven’t been yet. That situation is playing out as we speak, so I will reserve judgment and just hope it gets done. The camps are aiming for late June/early July. I will believe it when I see it.

Errol Spence Jr. vs. Terence Crawford to unify three welterweight titles. Both have said repeatedly they want the fight but both have also postured in a way that would lead anyone with half a brain to believe they are willing to let the fight pass them by. Spence turned 31 this month and Crawford is 33, so it’s not like either are getting any younger.
Spence has made demands for such a significant share of the purse that it means the fight won’t ever happen, at least under those circumstances. Crawford was interviewed on DAZN on March 20 during the Vergil Ortiz Jr.-Maurice Hooker card and also made it sound like there won’t be a fight, saying, “I’m not even worried about Errol Spence no more. I already told everybody that fight is history for me. I’m not thinking nor worried about Errol Spence any more. That fight is behind me.”

The young and exciting lightweight foursome of Teofimo Lopez, Ryan Garcia, Gervonta Davis and Devin Haney all seem to have plenty of time ahead of them to make big fights so I won’t say a round robin among them won’t happen, but you have to start somewhere, and so far there seems to be no real movement for a single one of these bouts. How about they get to them while they are all in their 20s and create excitement, legacies, big money and more fans?

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