The Five Best Boxing Matches That Never Happened
Boxing’s heavyweight division has hit a standstill with the disruption of the Tyson Fury (WBO champion) vs Oleksandr Usyk (WBO, WBA and IBF champion) fight. Both men are regarded as the top heavyweight boxers in the world, but won’t be facing off in April anymore as negotiations between both camps have stalled. This is the latest of a historical string of “superfights” that have failed to materialize, or perhaps happened later than they should have, such as the Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson fight that took place well beyond Tyson’s prime. We’re going to look back at the missed opportunities between the sport’s all-time best fighters in this article on the five best boxing matches that never happened, listed in chronological order.
Joe Frazier vs Sonny Liston
Who would have won between Joe Frazier and Sonny Liston? Frazier was the undisputed heavyweight champion from 1970 to 1973; he earned that title when he beat Jimmy Ellis for the WBA title and the WBC title that was vacated by Muhammad Ali. Frazier successfully defended his title against Bob Foster in a two round-knockout victory before facing Ali in the first of a three-part series between them called “Fight of the Century”.
Frazier’s 15-round unanimous victory over Ali was his best fight, and it came at the end of Sonny Liston’s 17-year career in the heavyweight division, which was cut short through his mysterious death. Liston earned the heavyweight title in 1962 when he knocked out Floyd Patterson in the opening round. He continued to dominate the division until he faced Ali in 1964 and 1965, losing his string of titles in the process. He fought in mostly non-title fights afterwards and expressed a desire to fight Frazier, claiming “it’d be like shooting fish in a barrel.”
Both knew how to talk the talk, and could hit harder than anyone else in the division at the time. This match up very much belongs at the top of our list of best boxing matches that never happened and the boxing odds would have been about as close as you can imagine.
Sugar Ray Leonard vs Aaron Pryor
Aaron Pryor was arguably the greatest boxer to miss out on facing the all-time greats of his era, most notably, Sugar Ray Leonard. As Pryor rose up the ranks of the welterweight division in the 70s, Leonard was already collecting world titles. By the time a matchup between them was suggested, Pryor had just defended his WBA light-welterweight title for the first time and was eager to make big money. He declined the $750,000 payout offered by the WBC to fight Leonard; instead, opting to fight Saoul Mamby in a title unification bout for $1 million. Unfortunately for Pryor, the fight against Mamby fell through.
Five TKO victories later, and Pryor got a second chance at facing Leonard—again for $750,000. This time he signed the contract, but it would all be for naught. Leonard suffered a detached retina and had to pull out of the fight to receive surgery. To make matters worse, Leonard announced his retirement at a charity event shortly after. He would make some comebacks, but never went toe-to-toe with Pryor, who fought his last fight in 1990, ending his career with a 39-1 record (35 KOs).
Roberto Duran vs Alexis Arguello
Boxing fans will forever be disappointed by the fact that there was never a fight between Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran and Alexis “The Explosive Thin Man” Arguello. Both fighters dominated several different weight divisions in their professional careers, and could have fought at lightweight in the late ‘70s.
After earning the WBA featherweight title and then vacating it to take the WBC super featherweight title, Arguello moved up to lightweight in 1978, losing his opening fight to Vilomar Fernandez by majority decision. He followed that loss with six successful WBC super featherweight title defenses and one non-title win before returning to lightweight, where he just managed to beat Jose Luis Ramirez, securing a title shot in the process against Jim Watt in 1981.
Arguello’s fight against Watt was one of his best efforts, as he asserted control and dropped the champion to the canvas in the seventh round. He won by unanimous decision, taking the WBC and The Ring lightweight titles with him. Duran earned those titles in the late ‘70s.
By the time Arguello was the lightweight champion, however, Duran had moved up to welterweight and then eventually middleweight. By the end of Duran’s five-decade career, he had become a world champion in four different weight divisions and amassed an overall record of 103 wins (70 KOs) and 16 losses.
Mike Tyson vs George Foreman
When it comes to the best boxing matches that never happened, Mike Tyson vs Muhammad Ali often comes into the equation as that fantasy match up for the ages. Age difference meant this fight was never going to be anything more than a fantasy, but George Foreman, who did face Ali in 1974, could well have faced “Iron Mike” later in his career.
Tyson and Foreman, two of the heaviest hitters of all time, sadly never entered the ring together. Foreman had the earlier career; he went pro in 1967 and terrorized the heavyweight division with 40 straight victories while collecting the WBA, WBC and The Ring heavyweight titles.
Mike Tyson arrived on scene while Foreman was in the midst of his first retirement. Tyson made a name for himself when he became the youngest boxer to hold a heavyweight title. During his 37 straight victories since going pro, he collected the WBA, WBC, IBF and The Ring titles.
In 1987, Foreman came back from retirement with the intent of fighting Tyson. After racking up a 28-2 record since his return, Foreman began talking to the media about a potential matchup between him and Tyson. However, Tyson signed with Don King, who Foreman explicitly avoided working with due to contract complications. Tyson ended up suing King years later and the super fight between the heavy hitters never happened.
Miguel Cotto vs Ricky Hatton
Puerto Rican boxer Miguel Cotto had an impressive 17-year career that saw him win a title in the light welterweight division and then progress up the scales all the way to middleweight. He was a world champion in four separate divisions, and at the peak of his career, he was ranked the No. 7 pound-for-pound boxer worldwide by The Ring magazine in 2009.
While Hatton’s career didn’t last as long as Cotto’s, they were rising up the ranks simultaneously, with Hatton being at the peak of his career in 2005, when he was named Fighter of the Year by three separate media outlets. Hatton became the unified world champion in the light-welterweight division on several occasions and had a quick reign as the WBA welterweight champ in 2006 when he struggled to a unanimous decision victory against Luis Collazo.
Have we missed any bouts out on our list of the best boxing matches that never happened? Let us know on Twitter.