Last year I saw Vitali Klitschko asking Lennox Lewis for a chance at redemption, the opportunity to clear his head of the memory that was haunting him by granting a rematch.
The pair met in a pitiless blood-fest in Los Angeles in 2003 (below) when Klitschko was rescued, in what looked like a scene from an abattoir, after six rounds of their world heavyweight title fight. His face was shredded but his desire was as strong as ever. At the time of the stoppage all three judges had Klitschko in front by two points. “Vitali still wants a rematch and now his wife has started to ask me to fight him one more time!” said Lewis. The rematch will never happen – because Lewis is retired for good and not because it was too many years ago.
Bernard Hopkins waited 17 years for his rematch with Roy Jones Jr and, just like Klitschko, thought about the first fight all the time. “It never left my mind. Never. I wanted revenge, I wanted a chance to win and that is why I chased Roy for a rematch,” said Hopkins.
In the first fight in 1993, Jones was arguably America’s biggest attraction, a hero from the 1988 Seoul Olympics who had been disgracefully denied gold by officials who had been wined and dined when they shouldn’t have. Jones was being groomed to be world champion, he was on a roll and seemingly unbeatable – and Hopkins was still serving out the iniquitous terms of his parole following years in prison. Jones won a cagey fight over 12 rounds, and a world title.
In 2010, Hopkins gained revenge and won easily against Jones, who had not survived the years of weight-making and hard fights in the ring with enough to bother the extraordinary “Executioner”. “It felt good. Make no mistake, it was worth the wait,” he confirmed.
Not all boxers are as patient as Hopkins and when George Foreman quit the ring in 1977, following an epiphany in the dressing room after Jimmy Young had beaten him, the refusal of Muhammad Ali to give him a rematch remained a significant factor.
In the “Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974 Foreman had been exposed by Ali the veteran and left grasping to make sense of the personal disaster long into the African night. “Big George”, who eventually drifted deep into the church to escape the ignominy, had taken out full-page ads in major American newspapers to try to shame Ali into a rematch. “Nothing worked, he was never going to fight me again,” Foreman said.
In 1987 Foreman returned leaner and meaner and exorcised many of the demons left by Ali’s fists when he regained the world heavyweight title in 1994. He had his crown back but not the thing he wanted most: a rematch with Ali.
On Saturday, at a sold-out O2 Arena, London, Carl Froch has the perfect rematch when he meets Denmark’s Mikkel Kessler. They will each enter the ring as world champions, both are still in or close to their primes and memories of their brilliant first fight in Herning, Denmark, close to the Lego capital of the world, in 2010 are still fresh.
“So many great rematches have been lost over the years and that is why I pushed so hard for this,” said Froch, who is arguably a bit fresher than Kessler in ring years. “I knew that it had to happen, it made sense and I will not make any mistakes this time.” Froch will find out, just like Hopkins said, that it is most certainly worth the wait.
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