After a spate of drawn fights in the UK, IBHOF inductee Graham Houston looks at rematches of contests where boxers fought a draw in their first meeting. Not every return fight was as competitive the second time around whereas other ‘draw rematches’ were closely fought, such as Canelo vs Golovkin II and Lewis vs Holyfield II.

Draws don’t happen a lot but when they do there is always controversy, with each fighter claiming victory. That’s when you hear one or both parties say: “Let’s do it again.”

We’ve had three draws in British boxing in recent weeks. There was the draw in the women’s title fight between Terri Harper and Natasha Jonas on August 7, another in the bout between Zak Chelli and Jack Cullen on August 22 and still another when, unusually, all three judges scored last weekend’s middleweight bout between Mark Heffron and Denzel Bentley 95-95. A unanimous draw is about as rare as it gets.

Sometimes a draw decision is considered so controversial that a rematch is made almost by public demand, as it were. This doesn’t always lead to a universally satisfying conclusion to the rematch. And a return bout after a disputed draw certainly isn’t automatic (think Julio Cesar Chavez vs Pernell Whitaker, or Chavez vs Miguel Angel Gonzalez or Gene Fullmer vs Joey Giardello, for instance).

A rematch of a drawn bout can be surprisingly one-sided. True, pretty much everyone expected Marvin Hagler to beat up Vito Antuofermo in the rematch of their controversial draw. However, the featherweight title rematch in Manchester between local favourite Michael Brodie and Korea’s In Jin Chi in April 2004 was expected to be another evenly fought bout. Instead, the bigger, stronger Korean fighter easily overpowered Brodie and knocked him out in the seventh round. It seemed as if the first, rather brutal fight six months earlier had left Brodie physically and mentally drained.

Do draw rematches sometimes end up all-even once again in the sequel? Well, it has happened. Jerry Quarry, then a rising heavyweight contender, fought a 10-round draw with another young heavyweight, Tony Alongi, at Madison Square Garden in March 1966. In a rematch on Quarry’s home ground in Los Angeles two months later, the result was another 10-round draw. 

In the UK, South Africa’s Mike Holt boxed a 12-round draw with British-based Tongan Johnny Halafihi in a British Empire light-heavyweight title eliminator in November 1959. They fought again the following year, this time with the now-vacant Empire title at stake, and the result was a 15-round draw. (Each time the referee was the sole arbiter.)

And then there is the drawn bout where no one wants to see the two boxers meet again. Such was the case when Johnny Nelson drew with Puerto Rico’s Carlos De Leon for the WBC cruiserweight title on Nelson’s home ground in Sheffield on January 27, 1990. 

There was booing by the later rounds as Nelson danced around the ring and pecked away while De Leon tried to get to get to him but never landed much of anything. “This is the poorest world title contest I’ve ever seen,” Jim Watt declared in 11th round of the ITV commentary, observing wryly that the only good news he could think of was that the distance in world title bouts had been cut from 15 to 12 rounds.

While we wait to see if Harper and Jonas, Chelli and Cullen and Heffron and Bentley get it on again, here’s a look at six rematches of draws.

LENNOX LEWIS W12 EVANDER HOLYFIELD

Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas; November 13, 1999.

Outrage was expressed in many quarters when Lewis had to settle for a draw in his heavyweight title fight with Holyfield at Madison Square Garden on March 13, 1999. Lewis got the verdict in the rematch, though, with two surprisingly wide scores of 117-111 and 116-112 while the third judge (all were from Nevada) had it tighter at 115-113. 

There was a perception that the judges might subconsciously be leaning towards Lewis after the widespread condemnation of the decision at the Garden. Possibly this was the case. To many observers, Lewis-Holyfield II looked like a tough, close fight. “Many were stunned by the judges awarding the bout to Lewis by the convincing margin of 6, 4 and 2 points” columnist Dean Juipe wrote in the Las Vegas Sun

Veteran columnist Jerry Izenberg thought the decision was a just one but he was unimpressed with Lewis’ performance. “Lewis was never in serious danger although he often looked exhausted and sporadically fought as though he were,” Izenberg wrote in the Newark Star-Ledger. “He won it close but he won it fair. Ironically, he didn’t get the decision in New York, where he fought far better.” 

Some ringsiders felt that ‘Real Deal’ Holyfield got a raw deal: Wallace Matthews of the New York Post had Holyfield winning 116-112.

However, British and Canadian newspapers were more laudatory when assessing Lewis’ showing. “During the early rounds and in the late rounds, Lewis outboxed Holyfield with relative ease, just as he did the first time they fought in Madison Square Garden,” Stephen Brunt reported in the Toronto Globe and Mail. “Though Holyfield was a whole lot better in the rematch, and especially a whole lot more focused, Lewis still controlled him with the jab, frustrating most of his advances.”

Lewis -Holyfield II proved a tough, close fight.

JAMES TONEY W12 MIKE MCALLUM

Reno; August 29, 1992.

Toney and McCallum battled to a 12-round draw in a middleweight title fight at Atlantic City in December 1991. In the return eight months later it was the younger Toney who made the necessary adjustments, scoring with sharp counters and generally getting off his punches with greater efficiency to win a majority decision that was widely scored in his favour by two of the judges.

Greats Toney and McCallum do it again in 1992.

CHRIS FINNEGAN W15 CONNY VELENSEK

Nottingham Ice Rink; February 1, 1972.

Finnegan looked desperately unlucky to have to settle for a draw when he challenged Velensek for the European light-heavyweight title in Berlin on May 5, 1971. He dominated the rematch, but it wasn’t an easy fight. Velensek was tough and game and he landed right hands. The scoring referee from France and judges from Belgium and Luxembourg all had Finnegan winning the rematch convincingly. I was covering the fight from ringside and recall Finnegan piling up points with his southpaw right jab before really opening up on Velensek in the later rounds. Finnegan had Velensek looking ready to be stopped but the stumpy, gnome-like German fighter survived despite being badly cut over the left eye. Reg Gutteridge wrote in the Evening News that Velensek “deserved the Iron Cross for courage”.

CANELO ALVAREZ W12 GENNADY GOLOVKIN

T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas; September 15, 2018.

The 12-round draw in the middleweight championship fight between Canelo Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on September 16, 2017, featured a truly bizarre scorecard from judge Adelaide Byrd, who had Canelo winning by a lopsided score of 118-110. In the opinion of many — maybe most — viewers, Canelo lost the fight. The oddsmakers had Golovkin a 2-1 on favourite for the rematch, reflecting the general viewpoint that GGG had won the first time. 

In the rematch, Golovkin seemed to hurt Canelo with hard, clear shots in the 10th round. All three judges gave Golovkin the 10th and 11th rounds. But it was the younger Mexican boxer who seemed to dig a bit deeper in the final round, which Canelo won on two judges’ cards to edge ahead: 114-114 on one card, 115-113 on the other two judges’ cards.

With little between them, Canelo-Golovkin 2 didn’t exactly settle the argument.

HENRY AKINWANDE W12 AXEL SCHULZ

Berlin; May 1, 1993.

Akinwande had boxed a draw with Schulz in Berlin five months earlier in a contest for the vacant European heavyweight title. It looked as if Akinwande had done enough get the decision. The French judge had him ahead but the scoring referee from Belgium and the Italian judge each scored the bout a draw. The rematch went much the same way as the first meeting, with the 6ft 7ins Akinwande using the ring, picking up points with his long left jab and landing the occasional sneaky right hand or right uppercut while Schulz did his best to force the fight but with limited success. 

“Schulz needs to knock him out to win this,” Sky Sports commentator Ian Darke suggested as the last round opened. Darke was right, with Akinwande winning a unanimous decision. There was booing from the Berlin crowd, but as Darke noted: “Schulz has been willing and courageous, and he’s come forward a lot, but ask yourself the question: How often has he really managed to land very cleanly?”

BERNARD HOPKINS W12 JEAN PASCAL

Montreal; May 21, 2011.

Scoring two flash knockdowns enabled Jean Pascal to escape with a draw in the first of his two light-heavyweight title fights with Bernard Hopkins. That one was in in Quebec City in December 2010 and Pascal, born in Haiti but raised in Montreal, was again on home ground for the rematch.  The younger, 28-year-old Pascal seemed edgy throughout, too often loading up on wild swings and hooks, while the astonishing 46-year-old Hopkins boxed a steady, disciplined fight, so relaxed that he even did push-ups between rounds. It was a close but unanimous win for Hopkins. 

The evergreen Hopkins turns back time again in his rematch with Pascal.