7 “Build Me Up Buttercup” Fights from Heavyweight Boxing History

Great Expectations Foiled

We can all relate to the increasingly frenzied excitement that becomes more & more palpable as a big event or even Superfight approaches in the sport of boxing. Here I explore 7 heavyweight fights that promised so much & either delivered so little or were well camouflaged mismatches.

Historically the heavyweight division has offered – as the sport’s marquee division for large portions of the preceding 120 years or so – the highest levels of hype & thus expectations within the imaginations of the viewing public. It should thus be of little surprise to see that division well endowed with nights that promised so much & managed only to underwhelm or just disappoint & frustrate fans who expected loads more – action or competitive fare.

Sultan Ibragimov vs. Wladimir Klitschko

The next great Eastern heavyweight was sure to emerge as Sultan Ibragimov took on one half of K2 – styles may make fights but every so often they destroy them too as we were given a 36 minute orgy of reach impaired awkwardness & tedious grabbing in a fight no one will soon forget wanting to forget.

Frank Bruno vs. Gerrie Coetzee

Back in 1986 my homeland of South Africa was at the height of the morally repugnant & internationally disdained racial policy of apartheid. A former white heavyweight champion from South Africa travelling to England to take on the pre-eminent British heavyweight of the era in “Our” Frank Bruno could have made for something special. And whilst a win for Bruno was of course the more politically palatable result – most were hoping for it to go longer than one round as the anti-apartheid movement on hand had barely taken their seats when Bruno’s arm was raised aloft & white supremacy was dealt another inevitable body blow.

Mike Tyson vs. Peter McNeeley

Served up like a Thankgiving turkey” is how one observer termed Mike Tyson‘s first opponent out of his stretch in prison for rape. McNeeley’s record it is alleged had been systematically padded for some time prior by a Team Tyson keen for a zero-danger opponent in Iron Mike’s first visit back to the squared circle. And whilst no one was expecting Rocky Marciano – the nature of the win – akin to a short-lived; observer interrupted bar room brawl between a deluded drunk guy &, well & Mike Tyson meant the millions watching at home (and paying for the privilege) were left with more questions than answers as to the forward viability of the Tyson fighting machine.

David Haye vs. Wladimir Klitschko

Severed heads & broken promises. Well you should try taking on a 6’7 Ukrainian whilst your little toe is stubbed – o, its not easy! In the end the only severed head left dangling was a metaphorical one – that of the storied heavyweight division itself – ravaged of the last vestiges of dignity, awe & majesty it once held in the collective consciousness. The event in the end felt less like a prize fight & more like a jacking – a jacking of the sport’s image by an opponent who had talked; insulted & pretended his way to a $15 million pay day.

Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling II

War of the Worlds? More like a one-sided pounding with Joe Louis swinging the hammer. As with Jesse Owens‘ historic achievements at the Berlin Olympics this was to be an event that poured water on the fires of Nazi claims of racial supremacy – so emphatically that the fallen Schmeling was to devolve from national icon to national embarrassment in an era less forgiving of the fragility of the human condition than our own.

Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield II

Tyson had overlooked the Holyfield threat in the first bout – he’d fallen pry to the timeless reality of pugilism that insists even pitter-patter punches extract a cumulative toll. Surely he’d come to fight – he came though, as it was to so dramatically transpire, to bite. When historians eventually decode the ongoing public fascination with the Tyson mystique it is unlikely that the very public descent into cannibalism will serve as a minor event in his elevation from revered ring talent to cultural icon but as a sporting event this one (well those two technically) act/s destroyed what was left of the era during which Tyson held court as the pre-eminent heavyweight of his time.

To be certain the jailing on rape charges in 1992 had choked off what public adoration there had one existed for Kid Dynamite – though that was somehow an event or an alleged event that existed on the periphery of the public imagination – the biting of Holyfield’s ear was done in the most public & thus unsettling of settings.

The unique nature of this situation can be understood within the context of the ultra experienced referee Mills Lane being so unsure of how to react that he appears to momentarily be ready to end the bout after the first bite before deciding to deduct two points.

Mike Tyson vs. Michael Spinks

Once & for All… Unified heavyweight champion of the world Iron Mike Tyson took on the so-called, also undefeated (unfloored to that point as it happens), People’s Champion & former light-heavyweight kingpin Michael Spinks in the ultimate collision of slugger vs. boxer. Even within the lofty heights of Tyson’s professional peak this was seen as, perhaps the only forthcoming, legitimate challenge to his reign as The Baddest Man on the Planet. Spinks was a consummate & slick boxer whose durability was well established through a professional career during which he’d managed to remain on his feet through 30 bouts.

The Saint Louis native held a pair of victories over the admittedly jaded Larry Holmes & had last fought Gerry Cooney in a fight that threw the Tyson clash into jeopardy as the enigmatic promotional guru Butch Lewis sought to maximize Spinks’ earning power by circumventing the HBO instigated heavyweight unification tournament.

It took Tyson a mere 91 seconds to settle this debate in a clash that allowed no scope nor public appetite for a rematch. This was Tyson at perhaps his most devastating against elite level competition & is historically viewed as the pinnacle of a talent that was to devolve very publicly in the years that followed.


Matt Hamilton

Matt Hamilton on Boxing @ ESNewsReporting.com