Steve Bunce on Boxing: Classic rematches only leave fight fans wanting more


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The Independent Online

A man called Sam Langford seemed to have some permanent unfinished business with his truly great rival Henry Wills, and they fought as many as 21 rematches.

There is no clear and clean science to rematches – they remain unpredictable, the result of varying factors. Langford and Wills were forced into conflict at a time when the sport of boxing had some serious problems and most of Langford's fights against Wills were for the world "colored" heavyweight title between 1913 and 1923. Modern fighters are spared the repetition that many had to endure to survive, but a rematch remains a major fixture on the boxing landscape.

Last weekend in Las Vegas and Liverpool, two great fight cities separated by a few licensing laws, the rematches of two of the best fights from 2012 took place, and in both fights the promise of a repeat of last year's intensity was expected.

At the Echo Arena in Liverpool, which is England's No 1 boxing venue, local fighter Derry Mathews met Anthony Crolla for the vacant Commonwealth lightweight title. The pair first met in Crolla's Oldham and the referee rescued him from his own bravery in round six. It was breathtaking and difficult to watch at times as they each wobbled from the punches.

On Saturday Crolla fought to plan, never risked another sickening defeat with a loss of his head, but was still trailing after nine rounds. The different corners were a study in tactics, despair and inspiration, and by about round 10 the men in Mathews' corner realised that their fighter had nothing left; his slender lead was not enough. Crolla had been pulled back, calmed down by trainer Joe Gallagher from the opening round, but that changed as the last three rounds of the drama unfolded.

It was beautiful to watch and in many ways was a much better fight. At the end it was a draw and they will go to a trilogy.

It was good in Liverpool but in Las Vegas, at the Mandalay Bay, the best fight so far this year took place when Mike Alvarado beat Brandon Rios to win the WBO light-welterweight title.

Last year Alvarado was stopped in round seven of a stunning slugfest and nobody genuinely believed that the rematch would be as good; it was better and rounds two and three have been added to the list of boxing's greatest rounds.

"The second round was the best round I have seen since the first round of [Marvin] Hagler and [Tommy] Hearns," said Bob Arum, the world's greatest promoter. "It really was that good and deserves to be mentioned with that round." The opening round of Hearns and Hagler in 1985 is considered the best round of boxing to have taken place.

I have no idea how Alvarado survived the second round, but he did, and in the third he had Rios out on his feet. The amazing fight went the full 12 rounds, Alvarado won, Rios laughed and Arum promised a rematch. It would be nice if both fights take place again on the same night. The four boxers have experienced so much together and hurt each other so often, and it remains impossible safely to predict the outcome of their third instalment; it is the crucial ingredient of shared pain that makes rematches so attractive.