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

By Steve Bunce

In 1998, Donald Trump was just Donald Trump, but he had plans for a fight to change boxing. Well, that was his spiel at the time.

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

Tyson and Holyfield had met outside his office at some point in the early summer of 1998. It was a shock to both, but clearly a move by Trump. However, his real aim was to get Foreman, who had last fought in late 1997, in the ring with Tyson. 

At that time, Tyson had some problems; he had clashed with Don King in a kicking encounter outside a hotel in Los Angeles, a lawsuit for a 100 million dollars was doing the rounds and he had to try and get his boxing licence back. He had, remember, in his last fight taken a lump or two out of Holyfield’s ear. Tyson was suspended, Trump had a plan. 

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

At the July hearing in New Jersey, Tyson was doing fine until he swore. It was all over after that outburst, Trump was furious, Foreman stayed retired, and we all missed out on possibly one of the most wonderful and ridiculous fights in boxing history. 

This Saturday [May 18 at the time of writing, Fury-Usyk was on the horizon – Ed], we will get the type of fight that has so often been lost. The Tyson and Foreman fight was extreme, but there are so many other entertaining, ridiculous and great fights that we have lost over the years. 

I’m talking about fights that were made, often official and then something went wrong, and they never took place. They were lost forever; a lot of people thought that the Fury and Usyk fight was gone for good. 

Some fights were agreed in principle, there had been a handshake and perhaps a nice few quid had been paid to make it possible. There are others that were rumours, but good rumours and not the modern version where one champion calls another a p**** or a b**** and instantly they think they can sell every seat in the Garden. They would often struggle to sell a deckchair in their own garden.

How about the Tim Witherspoon saga with the Klitschko brothers? It seemed to last for a decade. “They wanted too much of me,” Tim always said. “It’s just business,” the brothers always said. I would have loved to have seen the last of the best of ‘Spoon in with a Klitschko.

Naseem Hamed in a title fight with Azumah Nelson was another that was a distant idea; Zoom Zoom was the WBC super-featherweight champion when Hamed was the WBO feather champion. And what about Hamed and Arturo Gatti? I love that one. At the end of Hamed’s wildly entertaining win over Kevin Kelley in New York in December 1997, I spoke to Pat Lynch, Gatti’s man, and he confirmed it had been mentioned. Gatti was four pounds heavier and the IBF super-featherweight title holder. Lynch also dismissed it: “Gatti would massacre him,” he said at the Garden late that night.  

Arturo Gatti (Ed Mulholland/USA Today Sports)

There was also the great British showdown that was agreed one night at the Empire Pool in Wembley and then fell apart when one of the boxers passed away in the ring. In June of 1980, Johnny Owen and Charlie Magri fought on the same bill at the Empire Pool; Owen was the British bantamweight champion and Magri had never lost or defended his British flyweight title. They sat and talked in the dressing room. They were separated by a few pounds and there was no super-flyweight division. They had also met as schoolboys and Magri had won.

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

One of my favourites is John L. Gardner against Muhammad Ali in Hawaii in 1981. Ali said it would happen, it was made, and Mickey Duff had a massive payment in cash after his meeting with a man called Harold Smith in Los Angeles. Duff spoke to Big John, Big John agreed, and dates were being discussed when Smith’s empire crumbled – he was nicked. Duff kept the money but did tell the authorities in America; Big John never got a penny and never got to fight Muhammad Ali. This is a true story. We lost that one forever.

In the summer of 1990, Barry Hearn had Mike McCallum ready for a fight outdoors in Brighton against Chris Eubank. I think there was talk, initially, of it taking place at Old Trafford. It never happened, but it was more than a rumour.

One or two have vanished because one of the men went to prison and not training camp. Perhaps the most infamous example was in December 1982 when Davey Moore agreed terms and signed to defend his WBA light-middleweight title against Tony Ayala Jr. At the time, Ayala Jr was unbeaten in 22 fights with 19 finishing early. Nobody doubted he would be a boxing superstar.

Tony Ayala Jr

He was guaranteed 700,000 dollars for Moore and the Garden for the proposed fight in May of 1983 would be sold out. They even had a press conference and then, two weeks later, Ayala Jr lost his mind. He sexually assaulted a woman and was arrested shadow boxing semi-naked in the street at 3am. The fight was gone for good; he served every day of his minimum sentence of 15 years. Moore fought Roberto Duran instead in June and lost. Ayala Jr never became the fifth king. 

The fights we lost along the way have a bit of everything. It’s just a pity that so many have got away. Still, we have got Saturday in Riyadh and that looked like it was lost.

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