With Joseph Parker and Dereck Chisora set to recommence hostilities at the weekend, IBHOF inductee Graham Houston looks at past heavyweight rematches on UK soil.
There’s something about heavyweight rematches. Maybe it’s because just one big punch can produce a dramatically different outcome to the first meeting. We’ve got one to look forward to on Saturday when Joseph Parker, narrow winner the first time around, meets Dereck Chisora.
The great heavyweight rematches of history — Tunney-Dempsey, Louis Schmeling and so on — have been much discussed over the years. But what of return fights between the big boys in Great Britain? There have been many. Some return bouts have mirrored the initial meeting. Others have seen revenge gained.
One heavyweight rematch that matched the first fight for action and excitement was between London’s “Blond Bomber” Billy Walker and Birmingham’s “Beau Brummie”, Johnny Prescott. They fought twice, two months apart, in 1963, at Wembley Pool (as it was then known).
The first fight ended in controversy. Although down in the first round, Prescott seemed to be winning as the fight went into the 10th and final round. He scored with jabs and counter punches, and things looked bleak for Walker, who was cut severely over the left eye. But Walker, stronger and heavier, kept coming forward in typical gutsy fashion. “This is certainly the most gruelling fight either man has had in the ring up to date,” Harry Carpenter noted in the BBC TV commentary.
But Prescott looked ready to collapse as he walked back to his corner at the end of the ninth round and Walker simply overpowered his tiring opponent in the last round. A series of punches put Prescott down, Walker stayed right on him and referee Tommy Little intervened after one minute, 36 seconds of the round.
It was a controversial stoppage. The rematch was arranged far more speedily than could happen today. This time Prescott won on points after surviving a third-round knockdown. “This is the most amazing battle!” Harry Carpenter exclaimed in the eighth round as Prescott took the fight to Walker and for the first time in the two meetings backed him up and outpunched him. And Prescott again forced Walker back in the last round with the crowd roaring. “I’ve never heard anything like it,” Harry Carpenter said of the crowd’s thunderous noise.
There really should have been a rubber match but the fighters’ careers moved in different directions.
One of Saturday’s combatants, “War” Chisora, figured in two tremendous all-British heavyweight fights against Dillian Whyte, losing by split decision in the first bout in Manchester in 2016, then suffering an 11th-round KO defeat in the rematch at the O2 Arena two years later.
“Beautiful brutality” was how Sky Sports’ Adam Smith described the return bout. It looked anyone’s fight after 10 rounds of the scheduled 12, but in the 11th Chisora landed an overhand right, started to throw a follow-up left hook and got beaten to the punch as Whyte delivered a shorter, more compact left hook to end matters in thrilling fashion.
But not all return fights are as good as the original. Such was the case when Chisora met Tyson Fury for the second time. Fury had won a unanimous but hard-earned decision in the first fight in July 2011. Chisora was on a winning run when the two fought again and seemed confident that this time, 20lbs lighter than for the first meeting, he would turn the tables. But it was as if Chisora couldn’t get started. Fury bounced punches off him, and after 10 one-sided rounds the Chisora corner pulled the plug.
It’s unusual for a heavyweight rematch to end in the same round with the same winner as the first fight but it happened when Henry Cooper, having stopped Dick Richardson in the fifth round in 1958, duplicated the result in a return five years later, with the British heavyweight title at stake.
The first fight, outdoors at the Coney Beach Arena in Porthcawl, Wales, was the more exciting of the two bouts because Cooper had to get off the canvas to win. Richardson dropped Cooper in the fifth round but charged in carelessly and got caught by Cooper’s celebrated left hook. “His feet actually left the canvas and he was quite out cold before collapsing,” Robert Edwards noted in Henry Cooper; The Authorised Biography of Britain’s Greatest Boxing Hero. “It was such a fine punch that even the usually partisan Welsh crowd cheered.”
But Cooper’s two British title bouts with Jack Bodell were quite different even though Cooper won both. Cooper stopped Bodell in the second round in the first fight but had to go the full 15 rounds in the encore. Bodell was actually the defending champion in the rematch and the Derbyshire southpaw showed a champion’s pride as he put forth awkward but stubborn resistance. “Having the title certainly gives a man something,” Cooper said afterwards.
But these were all-British fights. In international bouts there were the two famous fights between Cooper and Muhammad Ali, of course. And there was a rematch that never really made sense when Cooper, having outpointed Zora Folley in an upset in 1958, was paired with the US contender again three years later.
It’s difficult to figure what Cooper had to gain from the second fight. It was a dangerous match-up against a skilled boxer who had knocked him down in the initial meeting. And Folley had been knocked out by Sonny Liston and the ill-fated Argentine heavyweight, Alejandro Lavorante, in the interim, so it wasn’t as if a second win over Folley would have particularly advanced Cooper’s career.
The rematch proved a disaster for Cooper, with Folley, who had perhaps underestimated him the first time, knocking out the British favourite in the second round.
So, over the years we’ve seen a bit of everything in heavyweight return fights in Britain. Now it’s the turn of Parker and Chisora to play their part in adding to Britain’s rich heavyweight-rematch history.
Main image: Whyte-Chisora II. Photo: Matchroom Boxing.