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Mike Tyson vs. George Foreman? We win some, we lose some

Written by Steve Bunce

In 1998, Donald Trump was just being Donald Trump, but he had plans to fight and reform boxing. Well, that was his spiel then.

Actually, Trump had two wars in mind; the trilogy between Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield and the fight between Tyson and George Foreman.

Tyson and Holyfield had met outside his office sometime in the early summer of 1998. It was shocking to both, but clearly Trump’s move. However, his goal was to get Foreman, who had last fought in late 1997, in the ring with Tyson.

At the time, Tyson had some problems; he had a fight with Don King in a kick fight outside a hotel in Los Angeles, a $100 million lawsuit was surrounding him and he had to try to get his boxing license. He had, remember, in his last fight taken a lump or two out of Holyfield’s ear. Tyson was stopped, Trump had a plan.

Donald Trump and Don King (DON EMERT/AFP via Getty Images)

At the July hearing in New Jersey, Tyson was doing well until he took the oath. It was over after that blowup, Trump got angry, Foreman stayed retired, and we all missed out on perhaps one of the most amazing and funniest fights in boxing history.

This Saturday [May 18 at the time of writing, Fury-Usyk was on the horizon – Ed], we will find a type of war that often goes astray. The Tyson vs Foreman fight was over the top, but there are plenty of other interesting, funny and great fights we’ve had over the years.

I’m talking about fights that are always legal and then something goes wrong, they never have. They are lost forever; many people thought that the fight between Fury and Usyk was gone forever.

Some fights were legally agreed upon, there was a handshake and maybe a good few quid was paid to make it happen. There are some that were rumours, but good rumours, not the modern version where one champion calls another ap**** or ab**** and soon they think they can sell all the seats in the Garden. They used to struggle to sell a deck chair in their garden.

What about the saga of Tim Witherspoon and the Klitschko brothers? It seemed to last ten years. “They wanted me a lot,” said Tim. “It’s just business,” the brothers always said. I would have liked to see the last of the best of ‘Spoon and Klitschko.

Naseem Hamed in a title fight with Azumah Nelson was another distant idea; Zoom Zoom was the WBC super-featherweight champion while Hamed was the WBO featherweight champion. What about Hamed and Arturo Gatti? I love that one. After Hamed’s thrilling win over Kevin Kelley in New York in December 1997, I spoke with Pat Lynch, Gatti’s man, and he confirmed what was said. Gatti weighed four kilograms and holds the IBF super-featherweight title. Lynch also dismissed it: “Gatti is going to kill him,” he said at the Garden that night.

arturo gatti

Arturo Gatti (Ed Mulholland/USA Today Sports)

There was also a big British match that was agreed one night at the Empire Pool in Wembley and it collapsed when one of the boxers died in the ring. In June 1980, Johnny Owen and Charlie Magri fought on the same bill at Empire Pool; Owen was the British bantamweight champion and Magri had never lost or defended his British flyweight title. They always talk in the dressing room. They were separated by a few pounds and there was no super-flyweight team. They had also met as schoolboys and Magri had won.

That night in June, they agreed to fight. First, Owen had to head to Los Angeles and fight Lupe Pintor for the world bantamweight title in September. Johnny never came back.

One of my favorites is John L. Gardner vs. Muhammad Ali in Hawaii in 1981. Ali said it would happen, it did, and Mickey Duff had a big cash payout after his meeting with a man named Harold Smith in Los Angeles. Duff talked to Big John, Big John agreed, and there was talk of days when Smith’s empire collapsed – he was fired. Duff kept the money but told the authorities in America; Big John didn’t get a dime and he didn’t fight Muhammad Ali. This is a true story. We lost that one forever.

In the summer of 1990, Barry Hearn prepared Mike McCallum for an outdoor fight in Brighton against Chris Eubank. I think there was talk, initially, of that happening at Old Trafford. It didn’t happen, but it was more than a rumor.

One or two disappeared because one of these men went to prison and did not go to training camp. Perhaps the most famous example was in December 1982 when Davey Moore agreed to terms and signed to defend his WBA light-middleweight title against Tony Ayala Jr. At the time, Ayala Jr was undefeated in 22 fights with 19 early finishes. No one doubted that he would become a boxing star.

Tony Ayala Jr.

Tony Ayala Jr

He was guaranteed $700,000 from Moore and the proposed War Garden in May 1983 would be sold. They even had a press conference and two weeks later, Ayala Jr lost his mind. He sexually assaulted a woman and was arrested for punching her naked in the street at 3 am. The war was over; he was serving all days of his 15-year minimum sentence. Moore fought Roberto Duran in his place in June and lost. Ayala Jr did not become the fifth king.

The battles we lost along the way mattered. It’s just sad that so many escaped. Anyway, we have Saturday in Riyadh and that looked like it was lost.

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