THIS is a story of death and Donald Trump, of fear and loathing and of the failure so often in the boxing game to make fights happen.
It is the story of fights that came close to being made, fights that were mentioned, fights that were made, fights that were discussed and then vanished. Some left a trail, some are hard to trace. Some sound invented.
Some of the fights did eventually take place, but the venue, the year and the circumstances often changed drastically. Mixed in with some of the fanciful pairings, there are the more mundane, the fights that seemed to make sense. And fights that just suddenly collapsed with either a medical excuse or just a shrug of the shoulders. Or a death in the ring.
The two Wladimir Klitschko and Derek Chisora title fights are beautiful examples. Del Boy swore they would never take place and he was right. Both were signed and sealed, the fighters were in place, they came face-to-face and then they vanished. Manny Steward never wanted the fight. Big Wlad’s body never wanted the fight and Chisora knew they would never happen.
In 2016, it was Klitschko’s turn to shake his head in dismay when two planned, ticketed and announced fights with Tyson Fury collapsed. Big Wlad was in London for the conference on one occasion and Fury had a breakdown on the M6 and missed it. How we laughed at that little joke; we waited a couple of hours for the car to be fixed. A week later it was off.
A Fury and Klitschko rematch in 2016 would have been special; it is definitely a fight that got away.
However, in New York in the long, hot summer of 1998 it is possible we were saved from a fight that we really did not need. Actually, it was four fights that collapsed on one bill during a chaotic three or four days at Madison Square Garden. It’s all true.
I’m not sure where to start and what order the fights tumbled. The main event of the PPV was Evander Holyfield and he arrived at Madison Square Garden for a light workout on Friday of fight week; he was defending his IBF and WBA heavyweight titles against Henry Akinwande. The fight was scrapped that day when Akinwande’s blood test, which he had taken just three days earlier, indicated that he had Hepatitis B. Holyfield had taken his blood tests 10 weeks earlier. Fight one, off.
Ray Mercer was on the undercard and his blood test also showed Hepatitis B. Fight two, off.
Maria Nieves-Garcia was fighting Christy Martin, but her blood test revealed that she was 21-weeks pregnant. Fight three, off.
And then, Roberto Duran, who looked awesome in the gym on the Wednesday, was banned from fighting William Joppy for the WBA middleweight title by a judge in Florida: Duran was accused of owing three months of child support. Or was it three years – it was that type of week. Fight four, off.
Don King had named the showed D-Day and had to scrap it. Duran did fight Joppy, just two months later and was easily beaten. Perhaps, just perhaps, the version of Duran I saw in a New York gym that week might have had enough.
Donald Trump once ruined the planned first fight between Mike Tyson and Frank Bruno, which was scheduled for Wembley Stadium. There were too many demands, too many obstacles. Trump was also involved in some convoluted way with the planned fight between Chris Eubank and Mike McCallum at Brighton’s ground in the summer of 1990. It was never going to happen. That was the same summer, I think, that Nigel Benn was going to have a rematch with Iran Barkley. There was talk of the Theatre of Dreams for the fight of lunacy. No chance of either happening.
There was even less chance of John H. Stracey accepting Duran as his first defence of the welterweight championship of the world. It was 1975, Stracey was on his way back from beating Jose Napoles in Mexico City. Stracey and Terry Lawless, his manager, stopped in New York to be made the offer. They were wined and dined by the executives at the Garden; it was a fight that made sense for Duran. Lawless was not impressed and packed John’s things for the flight home. It is my type of vanished fight. Duran was 51-1 at the time, still the lightweight world champion and beating the best in style with a snarl. It was a fun idea.
I always liked the sound of Terry Marsh and Hector ‘Macho’ Camacho. That was a probable at one point. Gary Sykes and a peak Adrien Broner was done and dusted and then imploded. I always loved the romance of that absurd fight. It went away forever, both boxers went off in very different directions; both would fall from a great height without safety nets at some point.
Charlie Magri and Johnny Owen met as schoolboys in Wales. They were kids, about six stone dripping wet. A few years later, they shared a bill at Wembley Pool. Magri in a European title fight at flyweight and Owen in a British bantamweight fight. Both won on the night and they were separated by less than seven pounds. They actually shared a dressing room and they got talking; two skinny little men with giant hearts. And mad ambitions. They agreed to a domestic blockbuster; what a fight that would have been. First, Owen was fighting for the bantamweight world title in Los Angeles against the great, Lupe Pintor.
Johnny never made it back from Los Angeles; Magri won his world title less than three years later. They would have given us a timeless classic in 1980.
Owen and Magri really is one truly great fight that got away and it had nothing to do with blood tests or the ego of a billionaire.