With Dillian Whyte attempting to avenge his KO defeat to Alexander Povetkin this weekend, IBHOF inductee Graham Houston looks at the outcomes of significant heavyweight rematches after a stoppage first time around.

Ring history tells us that if a heavyweight stops his opponent he will usually do the same in a rematch. Not always, however, which is good news for backers of Dillian Whyte, who on Saturday attempts to avenge his KO defeat against Alexander Povetkin.

There are many factors involved in rematches but perhaps especially so when heavyweights meet again.

Probably the most celebrated KO revenge victory came when Joe Louis, having been knocked out in the 12th round by Max Schmeling, destroyed his conqueror in the opening round of the rematch. But the return fight took place two years after the original. Louis had improved, with 11 wins in a row, and he was the champion, while Schmeling had boxed only three times since the first fight. Still, it was a sensational performance by Louis, who was far from an overwhelming favourite.

Sometimes there is a sense of unfinished business when a heavyweight goes back in against a fighter who stopped him in the initial meeting. Such was the case when Michael Dokes stopped Mike Weaver after 63 seconds of the first round in December 1982. It was a highly controversial ending, with Weaver covering up on the ropes after suffering a knockdown but not apparently in serious difficulties. The rival factions scuffled in the ring afterwards. “A sellout crowd at the 4,500-seat Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion roared its unhappiness over the quick ending,” Associated Press reported.

In the rematch the following May, outdoors at the Dunes casino hotel in Las Vegas, Dokes and Weaver fought 15 gruelling rounds to a draw, which tended to bear out Weaver’s comment after the first fight that he simply hadn’t got warmed up: “I was not hurt. I was just cold.”

Just because a first meeting ends in a spectacular KO doesn’t mean the rematch will be equally as thrilling.

The first fight between Rocky Marciano and Jersey Joe Walcott in September 1952 provided high drama, with Marciano, down in the first round and behind on points, knocking out the ageing but still dangerous champion in the 13th round. However, the rematch the following May in Chicago was something of a fiasco, with Walcott going down in the first round and apparently misjudging the count.

Even though the Walcott camp filed a formal protest that their man had been given a “short count”, not everyone was convinced that the 39-year-old Jersey Joe really and truly wanted to continue.  “It appeared to many ringside observers a glassy-eyed Walcott ‘sat out’ the 10-count of referee Frank Sikora,” AP reported.

Another rematch that disappointed after a dramatic initial meeting came when Joe Louis knocked out Billy Conn in the eighth round in June 1946. The first fight was, of course, one of the most widely discussed and exciting in heavyweight history, with Louis, behind on points, knocking out Conn in the 13th round when the elusive challenger got overly ambitious.

However, in the five years that had passed since the first fight, Louis and Conn had become older, slower versions of their former selves. The rematch at New York’s Yankee Stadium was a flop. Louis was patient while Conn was cautious to the point of merely trying to survive.

“Up to the last few seconds, when the dynamite in the big [champion’s] fists suddenly went off and left Conn wrapped in darkness on the floor, the great crowd banked in the Yankee ball yard had witnessed as dull a fight as the ring game ever spawned,” columnist Gayle Talbot wrote. “The 45,206 fans who paid $1,925,564 to witness the one-sided spectacle at least can tell their grandchildren they saw a great champion at near to his best.”

When Sonny Liston repeated a first-round knockout over Floyd Patterson we had the rare instance of a heavyweight rematch ending exactly the same as the first bout, except that Liston-Patterson II lasted four seconds longer.

Patterson found it difficult to come to terms with those first-round defeats. “Oh, I would give up anything to just be able to work with Liston, to box with him somewhere where nobody would see us, and to see if I could get past three minutes with him,” Patterson told writer Gay Talese in a 1964 interview for Esquire magazine.

Indeed, it happens many times in  big heavyweight fight where the boxer who stopped his opponent does so in the return fight, too.  For instance, Muhammad Ali obliged Liston to surrender after six rounds, then won the rematch on a strange one-round knockout, while George Foreman twice stopped Joe Frazier, and Frazier twice stopped Jerry Quarry.

Way back in time, James J. Jeffries knocked out former champ Bob Fitzsimmons in the 11th round to become heavyweight champion, then knocked out Fitzsimmons in the eighth round of the rematch. And that 1902 return bout between Jeff and Fitz definitely didn’t disappoint. In fact, for seven rounds it looked as if Fitzsimmons was on his way to beating the bigger, stronger Jeffries in a fight that took place in San Francisco. 

According to the contemporary reports, Fitzsimmons was vastly superior and landed almost at will against the slower champion. In the first seven rounds, Fitzsimmons was “chopping the champion to pieces with terrific rights and lefts,” the Santa Barbara Weekly Press reported. “It was a draught horse and racer from the tap of the gong.” 

But in the eighth it seemed that Fitzsimmons either lost concentration or simply relaxed, and Jeffries dropped him with a left hook. “I consider myself lucky to have won when I did,” Jeffries was quoted as saying after the fight.

Onto more recent times and Deontay Wilder, having stopped Cuba’s Luis Ortiz in the 10th round of a difficult fight, knocked out Ortiz in the seventh round of the rematch. And Mike Tyson twice ran roughshod over Frank Bruno, in the fifth round the first time, then in three rounds, although there was the famous “Get in there, Frank!” moment from Harry Carpenter in the first fight when the British heavyweight rocked Iron Mike with a left hook.

But, encouragingly for Whyte, historic precedent isn’t entirely against him when it comes to heavyweights renewing rivalry with an opponent who inflicted a KO loss. There was Joe Louis’ quick victory over Max Schmeling in the return bout. And in immediate rematches (that is, no intervening bouts) Lennox Lewis, overconfident and probably somewhat underprepared the first time, flattened Hasim Rahman in four rounds after shockingly getting knocked out in the fifth round in the first fight, while in 1960 Floyd Patterson became the first fighter to regain the heavyweight title when, having been knocked down seven times by Ingemar Johansson a year earlier, he knocked out the Swedish boxer in the fifth round.

In the Lewis and Patterson rematches, it was a case of “getting it right next time”. The Lewis who faced Rahman second time around was a much more focused, finely honed fighter. It was clear very early that history wouldn’t repeat itself. And Patterson practically went into seclusion to get ready for the Johansson rematch. The first time, Patterson just wasn’t ready for the speed of that first Johansson right hand in the third round. When Floyd got tagged, he couldn’t get himself back together. It was a different Patterson in the encore, as if every fibre of his being was ready, all senses on high alert.

Now Dillian Whyte finds himself in one of those “repeat or revenge” fights. Will Whyte be like the Lewis of the Rahman rematch and the Patterson who faced Johansson the second time, mentally and physically prepared to show that what happened the first time really shouldn’t have happened at all? Not long till we find out.

Main image: Lewis emphatically KOs Rahman in their return. Photo: Alamy/Reuters.