With Dillian Whyte’s revenge mission against Alexander Povetkin already pencilled in for November, IBHOF inductee Graham Houston looks at instances where a fighter stopped in a first bout avenged that loss in a rematch.

Even though Alexander Povetkin knocked out Dillian Whyte on August 22 the British heavyweight has been installed an  8/15 favourite for the return bout, likely to take place on November 14 or 21.

Now, I’ve heard it said that a boxer who stops his opponent will usually stop him in the rematch, maybe sooner. As in all these so-called truisms, though, there are exceptions. Maybe, for instance, what happened in the first fight was some sort of fluke, a result unlikely to be repeated.

A classic example of a “fluke” KO win being avenged came in the two heavyweight title fights between Lennox Lewis and Hasim Rahman. In the first fight, in South Africa in April 2001, Lewis seemed under prepared after filming a cameo role in the Ocean’s Eleven remake in Las Vegas. He didn’t seem to take Rahman seriously — and he got knocked out in the fifth round. It was an upset that simply should not have happened. We saw a lighter, trimmer, altogether more focused Lewis for the rematch in Las Vegas seven months later when he blasted out Rahman in the fourth round.

While it would be unfair to say Povetkin’s win over Whyte came from some sort of lucky punch — the Russian heavyweight delivered a beautifully timed left uppercut — the bookmakers don’t believe he can do it again.

True, Povetkin absolutely flattened Whyte. However, Whyte had controlled the first four rounds and he dropped Povetkin twice in the fourth. It looked as if the end would come in the fifth round. It did — but with Povetkin winning.

The oddsmaker clearly believes that a more careful, more switched-on Whyte won’t give Povetkin the chance to land another fight-winning blockbuster when the two men meet again. 

Povetkin stuns Whyte and the bookmakers in the fifth round.
Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

What about the fighter who scored the KO — in this case, Povetkin — having a so-called psychological advantage? Well, the fighter who got stopped the first time might firmly believe that he will put things right in the rematch, that all that is needed is a tactical change, say, or improved conditioning. Or simply a concentration of mind that may have been lacking the first time. No doubt Whyte is thinking along those lines.

Meanwhile, here are five instances of a KO victim gaining revenge in the return bout. (I’ve selected rematches that took place within 12 months of the first contest — when Joe Louis destroyed Max Schmeling in the return fight there had been a two-year gap between meetings.)

WILLIE PEP W15 SANDY SADDLER

When Saddler knocked out Pep in the fourth round to win the featherweight title at Madison Square Garden on October 29, 1948, it was considered a startling upset.  The rematch took place at the Garden just four months later, on February 11, 1949, with Pep winning a unanimous 15-round decision despite suffering cuts. 

Pep became the first boxer to regain the featherweight title with a wonderful display of skill and courage. “He called on every ounce of strength within his compact little body, and all the guile he has accumulated through eleven years as amateur and professional fighter, to gain the triumph,” James P. Dawson reported in the New York Times. “The fight was sensational because it was so unexpected; few in the gathering thought the Pep who crumpled last October could come back from that harrowing experience.”

It was a case of a great fighter who had been knocked out dredging up everything he had to produce the greatest fight of his life in the rematch.

FLOYD PATTERSON KO5 INGEMAR JOHANSSON

Sweden’s Johansson landed his “Hammer of Thor” right hand to knock Patterson down seven times in third round at Yankee Stadium on June 26, 1959, but Patterson turned the tables in spectacular fashion, knocking out Johansson in the fifth round at the Polo Grounds, New York, a year later to become the first fighter in ring history to regain the heavyweight championship.

Patterson went almost into seclusion to prepare for the return fight. He truly was a man on a mission. Johansson, meanwhile, seemed a bit too sure of himself, as if all he had to do was to land the right hand again. Patterson weighed in eight pounds heavier for the rematch, noticeably thicker through the chest, shoulders and neck as noted by New York Times columnist Arthur Daley, who wondered if Johansson was quite the devastating puncher he was made out to be, seeing that he couldn’t finish off an “utterly helpless” Patterson immediately after the first knockdown the previous year. “Logic says that Johansson must win,” Daley wrote. “But the hunch in this corner is that Floyd will blunt the Hammer of Thor and win by knockout before the tenth.” The columnist got it right.

Patterson gains sweet revenge against Johansson.

ROCKY GRAZIANO KO6 TONY ZALE

The first two fights between Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano were among the most dramatic in middleweight championship history. Zale won the first fight by sixth round KO at Yankee Stadium on September 27, 1946, but only after surviving a first-round knockdown and appearing to be on the brink of defeat. Graziano took the loss to heart, feeling his conditioning had let him down. He was in probably the best shape of his life for the rematch: “Graziano has trained harder and longer than he ever did before,” one news agency reported.

Zale was a 13-10 on betting favourite but Graziano, 25, was eight years the younger man and youth was served on a swelteringly hot night at Chicago Stadium on July 16, 1947. Graziano suffered a cut over the left eye and his right eye was swollen virtually shut but he survived an early hammering and simply outlasted Zale. “He shook off Tony’s counter punches to the body and shook the champion with all-out hooks to the head that had the veteran swaying this way and that,” Jack Cuddy reported for the United Press news service. The end came with Zale on the ropes and Graziano smashing away at him. But Zale regained the title from Graziano with a third-round KO in an anti-climactic rubber match in 1948.

TERRY NORRIS W12 SIMON BROWN

“Terrible” Terry Noris was a formidable boxer-fighter. Sometimes, though, he could be too much ”fighter”, too little concerned with defence. This led to disaster when Jamaica’s dangerous Simon Brown knocked him out in the fourth round to take Norris’ WBC 154-pound title on a big Don King show in Mexico in December 1993.

Perhaps Norris took Brown a bit lightly. After all, Buddy McGirt had outclassed Brown in a welterweight title fight two years earlier. The Norris camp didn’t want Terrible Terry taking any chances in the rematch. “We went Terry boxing, boxing, boxing,” Norris’ manager Joe Sayatovich told me before the fight. “When Terry’s sparring, if he stands and trades punches we stop the round and make him start the round over again.” The Norris’ camp strategy of hit-and-don’t-get-hit worked beautifully in the rematch with Brown at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas five months later. Norris boxed and moved for 12 rounds to score a comfortable win on points.

Norris boxed a clinic in his rematch with the dangerous Brown.

CHIQUITA GONZALEZ W12 MICHAEL CARBAJAL

The first fight between light-flyweight champions Michael Carbajal and Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez at the Las Vegas Hilton on March 13, 1993, was one of the greatest bouts I ever saw on-site, with Phoenix, Arizona’s Carbajal down twice and behind on points only to knock out his Mexican rival in the seventh round. In that meeting, Gonzalez went for the knockout and got tagged himself. 

In the rematch 11 months later at the Forum in Inglewood, California, Chiquita boxed a very different type of fight. The strategy devised by his new trainer, Nacho Beristain, called for Chiquita to use a counter-punching style with the emphasis on scoring points, not slugging it out. The “Little One” from Mexico City stuck to the battle plan even after suffering a vertical cut stretching from the inside corner of his left eyebrow up to his forehead after a clash of heads in the third round. The rematch lacked the fire and fury of the first fight but that suited the bloodied Gonzalez, who was cool and composed throughout as he switched between the southpaw and orthodox stances. 

“It was in and out, hit and not get involved, and Gonzalez did it to perfection,” I wrote from ringside for Boxing Monthly. “Even when Carbajal did connect, it was usually with just one blow at a time — a straight right or a left hook — and Gonzalez took the punches well.” It was a close fight, with Gonzalez taking a deserved split decision.