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A hard task: Regaining the heavyweight title

Alexander Usyk, Anthony Joshua boxing photo and news image

By Gav Duthie: Will AJ step aside for an undisputed fight between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk, or will he try to make history. There are only four people in the history of heavyweight boxing who have regained their titles in immediate rematches, and Anthony Joshua is one of them.

Even doing it against Andy Ruiz Jnr in 2019 was impressive to do it again goes against the odds. Everyone agrees he needs to change his approach. It’s almost the opposite to what he did in adapting for Andy Ruiz. Talk of stepping aside must mean they know the enormity of the task.

The Fabulous 4

  • Floyd Patterson 1960
  • Muhammad Ali 1978
  • Lennox Lewis 2001
  • Anthony Joshua 2019


Floyd Patterson was the first boxer in history to regain the title, immediate rematch or otherwise. His defeat to Ingemar Johansson was much more crushing than AJ’s to Ruiz or Usyk. Patterson was destroyed in the 3rd round after being dropped seven times. He knocked Johansson out cold in the 5th round with a huge left hook.


Leon Spinks shocked the world when he beat Muhammad Ali in only his 8th professional fight. Spinks was fast-tracked because he was a 1976 Gold Medalist. In truth, ‘The Greatest’ was well past his best. Spinks won a 15 round decision outworking the champ. He was good enough, though, to roll back the years to defeat the youngster. Ali announced his retirement straight after. This was the right decision, but unfortunately, he was lured back due to finances losing to both Larry Holmes and Trevor Berbick.


A bit like Anthony Joshua, Lennox Lewis had already won a rematch before attempting to do it again. Lewis had broken down, literally, Oliver McCall in the mid/late 90s, but the rematch wasn’t immediate, and McCall lost the title he gained from Lewis to Frank Bruno.

In 2001 Lewis had been knocked out by a straight right hand to the powerful Hasim Rahman in South Africa. In the return only a few months later, Lewis did the same he was more aggressive and knocked Rahman out with a left hook, straight right combination.


At short notice, Andy Ruiz pulled off the nearly impossible recovering from a 3rd round knockdown to dominate AJ and stop him in round 7. His fast hands were too much for the Brit, and every time he let them go, AJ was in trouble. Joshua boxed behind his long jab in the second fight to an easy 12 round UD.

Can Anthony Joshua do it again against a superior technician and be the 5th to achieve it and the first to do it twice. I think he can.

Other Heavyweight rematches of note:

Deontay Wilder v Tyson Fury 3

Wilder nearly regained his title in an immediate rematch (3rd fight), dropping Fury twice, but the Brit rallied to stop Deontay in the 11th round.

Alexander Usyk, Anthony Joshua boxing photo and news image

Mike Tyson v Evander Holyfield 2

Tyson lost his WBA title to Holyfield in 1996. In probably the most famous boxing incident of all time, Tyson, in the rematch, through frustration, partly bit off the ear of Evander, losing the bout by disqualification.

Evander Holyfield v Riddock Bowe 2

Holyfield lost his three world titles to ‘Big Daddy’ Bowe in late 1992. He won it back in the ‘Fan Man’ fight only a year later, but in between, Bowe destroyed both Mike Dokes and Jesse Ferguson in defenses, and Holyfield defeated Alex Stewart. Holyfield’s win was a little controversial, and Bowe settled the trilogy in a rematch, but it was a great rematch victory nonetheless.

Sonny Liston v Muhammad Ali 2

Nobody could conceive that Ali (then Cassius Clay) could beat Sonny Liston. Liston was the most intimidating man in the history of boxing. Ali was undefeated but had been dropped by Sonny Banks and Henry Cooper. Ali controlled the fight, and Liston quit with a shoulder injury. In the rematch, many claim Liston took a dive and was stopped in the first round. He carried his career on but was never the same.

Muhammad Ali v Ken Norton 2

Ali actually did win his title back in an immediate rematch, but it wasn’t a world title. It was the NABF. Ali was on the comeback trail after his Frazier loss, and Norton wasn’t expected to do what he did. Norton’s jab was superior, and he broke Ali’s jaw earlier in the fight.

Joe Louis v Max Schmeling 2

German Schmeling, who was 99 years old when he passed in 2005, produced a huge upset in beating Joe Louis. He nailed the American with counter-right hands all night long to take the world title, stopping his opponent in the 12th round. The rematch was almost exactly two years later, but such was the time and the level of activity ‘The Brown Bomber’ Louis had won 11 fights in between. The rematch was hugely one-sided, with Louis destroying Schmeling in the first round.

John Ruiz v Evander Holyfield 2

After losing his titles to Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield had the chance to win back the vacant WBA title in his next fight. He defeated John Ruiz in a tough/competitive fight. Ruiz turned the tables in the rematch, and their 3rd contest ended in a draw, putting an end to one of the most boring boxing trilogies of all time.




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