The Five Greatest Rematches in Modern Heavyweight History

As the anticipated February 22nd sequel between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury fast approaches, we look back at the five greatest rematches in heavyweight history.

We’re less than two weeks away from the most anticipated heavyweight title fight since June 2002, when Lennox Lewis beat Mike Tyson in the penultimate fight of Lewis’ career.

Undefeated WBC World Heavyweight Champion Deontay Wilder and lineal titlist Tyson Fury fought to a disputed draw 14 months ago. Both men have since won two interim bouts. On Saturday, February 22, they square off again, this time at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, in a historic pay-per-view (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT)

Their first fight was one of the most dramatic heavyweight title fights in recent memory, with Fury climbing off the canvas twice in a battle that was declared a 12-round split draw. Who is likely to win the rematch? Here’s what history tells us as we look back at the five greatest rematches in heavyweight history:

5 HASIM RAHMAN VS. LENNOX LEWIS 2

Date: November 17, 2001

Location: Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas

At stake: Rahman’s WBC and IBF World Heavyweight titles

Records: Rahman 35-2 (29 KOs), Lewis 38-2-1 (29 KOs) 

Result: Lewis KO 4

Summary: In April 2001, Lewis, the reigning WBC and IBF World Heavyweight Champion, suffered a stunning fifth-round TKO loss to the lightly-regarded Rahman in South Africa. Rahman was a 20-to-1 underdog going in, and was even a 2.5-to-1 underdog to repeat the feat in their rematch seven months later. The dislike between the two was real, evidenced by their melee during a joint ESPN interview show in the build-up to the fight.

A better-prepared Lewis handily defeated Rahman in the rematch, using his jab to outbox him in the first three rounds and then putting him away with a crunching left-right combination in the fourth round. That would clear the path for Lewis’ eventual mega clash with Mike Tyson. Lewis seemingly never got along with Rahman, even after beating him. During Rahman’s stunning 12th-round loss to Oleg Maskaev five years later, Lewis, working as an HBO analyst, jubilantly yelled “It’s over! It! Is! Over!” as Rahman was nearly put through the ropes.

4 LENNOX LEWIS VS. EVANDER HOLYFIELD 2

Date: November 13, 1999

Location: Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas

At stake: Holyfield’s WBA/IBF and Lewis’ WBC World Heavyweight titles

Records: Lewis 34-1-1 (27 KOs), Holyfield 36-3-1 (25 KOs) 

Result: Lewis W 12

Summary: The setup to this fight is what mostly resembles the one for Wilder-Fury 2. Eight months earlier, Lewis and Holyfield fought to a split draw. However, most observers thought Lewis outboxed Holyfield and deserved the decision. The outcome delayed the goal of crowning an undisputed heavyweight champion. It only took a few weeks for both fighters to agree to the mandated rematch.

The second fight proved to be much more entertaining than the first, as Holyfield had gained insight after going 12 rounds with Lewis the first time. Lewis outboxed Holyfield early on, but the “Real Deal” found his footing and took control in the middle rounds. Lewis rebounded during the latter third of the bout, earning a wider than expected decision that led many to speculate that he was given the benefit of the doubt in close rounds because of the outcome of the first fight. 

3 EVANDER HOLYFIELD VS. MIKE TYSON 2

Date: June 28, 1997

Location: MGM Grand, Las Vegas

At stake: Holyfield’s WBA World Heavyweight title

Records: Holyfield 34-1-1 (27 KOs), Tyson 33-3 (24 KOs) 

Result: Holyfield DQ 3

Summary: When Holyfield stopped Tyson in their first meeting in November 1996, he did so while being as long as a 25-to-1 underdog at some sportsbooks. In that fight, Holyfield showed no fear and walked down Tyson. Or as SHOWTIME broadcaster Steve Albert put it during the fight, “No matter what happens from here on in, we are looking at a sports legend in the purple trunks -- Evander Holyfield!” 

The two met in a rematch seven months later. It’s considered one of the most insane moments in sports history. Tyson, unhappy with the way the referee Mills Lane didn’t warn Holyfield for what he believed were intentional headbutts, took matters into his own hands, biting Holyfield on the ear, not once but twice. The first bite, on the right ear, earned him a two-point deduction from Lane. Following a second bite, this time on Holyfield’s left ear, Tyson was disqualified which sent the crowd into a frenzy. Tyson would lose his license for a year and was fined $3 million. Nevertheless, the fight was a financial success, earning $180 million across all avenues of revenue and a reported 1.99 million PPV buys.

2 RIDDICK BOWE VS. EVANDER HOLYFIELD 2

Date: November 6, 1993

Location: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

At stake: Bowe’s WBA/IBF World Heavyweight titles

Records: Bowe 29-1 (22 KOs), Holyfield 34-0 (29 KOs) 

Result: Holyfield MD 12

Summary: This was an excellent heavyweight rematch more fondly remembered for one of the strangest interruptions in boxing history. When Holyfield and Bowe met for the first time in November 1992, they produced one of the greatest heavyweight wars of all-time. Bowe earned the undisputed heavyweight title with the unanimous decision win. The two fought other opposition before meeting just under a year later for the rematch. 

This time, Holyfield turned the tables on his rival to win a close majority decision and reclaim the belts. But what stands out about the fight isn’t the actual fight, but what happened midway through it. The bout was held at the outdoor Caesars Palance which allowed James Miller, better known as “Fan Man,” to parachute into the ring during the seventh round, wearing a giant fan strapped to his back. He crashed into the ring ropes, took a hellacious beating from Bowe’s henchmen, and delayed the bout for 21 minutes. It’s something that’s never been seen again and one of the oddest moments in sports, period. 

1 Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier 3

Date: October 1, 1975

Location: Araneta Coliseum, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines

At stake: Ali’s WBA/WBC World Heavyweight titles

Records: Ali 48-2 (35 KOs), Frazier 32-2 (27 KOs) 

Result: Ali TKO 14

Summary: There’s little question that Ali and Frazier delivered the most heated rivalry in the history of boxing. Once friends, these two legends grew to despise each other. It only helped make the rubber match, “The Thrilla in Manila,” arguably the greatest fight of all time. Both were past their prime, but they hadn’t lot anything in the guts department. They beat the hell out of each other for 14 rounds before Frazier’s trainer, the great Eddie Futch, stopped the fight. Ali referred to the struggle as “the closest thing to death” he ever experienced. 

The fight was watched by a record estimated global audience of one billion people. 100 million watched the fight on closed circuit with 500,000 watching on pay-per-view, the first fight to be shown on the medium in history.

For a closer look at Wilder vs Fury 2, check out our fight night page. 

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