Sequels in the film industry are often a load of rubbish. The common idea is to replicate the formula that made the first a success only for it to be a cheap knock off of the original, leaving fans disappointed and disgusted, but who cares so long as it made a load of money right? The same however, can not always be said in boxing. Rematches are often necessary when two combatants who are evenly matched in their first contest, go at it again to see if the first result was a true reflection of the victors supremacy. Boxing results have a funny way of leaving us with more questions than answers when fights are close and as hardcore boxing fans we have a nerdy, oddly obsessive way of deconstructing and debating who truly is the superior fighter until they prove it to us in the ring. Usually a fight ending with a sickening KO (my particular favourite) or clear decision victory (blood, guts and knockdowns are welcome) are enough to satisfy us, but if not then we resort back to our childlike traits of refusing to acknowledge defeat and challenge the result with a defiant demand for a rematch.
In November and January we saw fights that were made to clear up exactly who was the best in their respective divisions. Andre Ward vs Sergey Kovalev at Light Heavyweight and Badou Jack vs James Degale at Super-Middleweight. The winners were supposed to define who was the true champion. They would have a lofty ranking in the mythical pound for pound lists and a career defining win on their resumes. Ah yes, these fights would once and for all satisfy boxing fans and would serve as a middle finger to all those that said that boxing is a dying sport on its knees, just waiting for the UFC to put it out if its misery and roundhouse kick it into irrelevance. Then boxing did as it so often does; just as it had the opportunity to stand back up and fight back against its many doubters, it chose to punch itself in the face, leaving itself dazed, confused and no better off. The judges most trusted to give us our Light Heavyweight Champion awarded Andre Ward a highly debatable unanimous decision despite being dropped and dominated by the intimidating Russian Sergey Kovalev.
In January we were treated to a great scrap between Badou Jack and James Degale, a see-saw battle between the two top Super-Middleweights who dropped each other en-route to a majority decision draw. Badou Jack was unmarked, where as James Degale resembled a drunk who had been mugged for his wallet and sounded as much too with his humorously slurred and lisped speech caused by having his teeth knocked out. Jack looked to have edged the contest but a draw can not be considered a disgrace.
The only way to bring clarity is to do it all again. These are proud and courageous warriors deserving of respect who surely wouldn’t want fans scrutinising their most important nights, otherwise what would be the point in giving their blood sweat and tears in the first place. Many still talk of the shambolic scoring of Pernell Whitaker vs Julio Cesar Chavez and dismiss the result. A loss on his record would have done Chavez less harm than the loss of respect he had from some fans. Whitaker suffered as he will never officially own the scalp of the then undefeated Mexican legend. Boxing as a sport became a loser and a joke as it robbed the very warrior that it is supposed to reward. The wrong was never made right with a rematch and now when fans discuss the result they invariably begin with “it was a draw but Whitaker was robbed”. Looking back at the past, rematches have been to the benefit of fighters whenever they were doubted or provided an opportunity for justice. Joe Louis gave rematches to Joe Walcott and Billy Conn and in doing so emphatically proved the doubters wrong by knocking them out. Manny Pacquiao lost a highly disputed decision to Tim Bradley but beat him with ease in the succeeding rematches giving him the deserved lead in that head to head.
If Ward retires as he has hinted and avoids Kovalev, his legacy will forever be shrouded in doubt. Fans and experts will question his integrity and bravery if he was to run rather than rematch. To Ward I say prove the doubters wrong, show us you can neutralise the rabid Russian for the full 12 rounds. Kovalev too has something to prove, he knocked Ward down in Round 2 but his superiority faded as the fight progressed. If presented with the same opportunity he needs to make his case for superiority with an exclamative knockout rather than with verbal jabs we heard from him after the fight. Degale and Jack fought to unify titles and give us a true champion of the Super-Middleweight division but the draw left that question unanswered. Jack has since vacated his title and declared his intention to challenge himself at Light Heavyweight. From a business and career point of view there just can’t be many benefits in doing this. He would likely have to go life and death against tough contenders such as Fonfara or Cleverly and could lose serious career momentum if he was to lose competing in those lower prestige and lower paying fights.
Rematches for these guys are a no-brainer. The originals were good, compelling fights and provided entertainment. If they were to do it all again, the fans would be interested in these fights, anticipating entertainment again. Tickets would sell like hot cakes and the event and promotion would be that much bigger based on the efforts of all men in their first fights. They would be part of rivalries which could be stuff of legends and have their names synonymous with each other evoking fond memories for fans to look back on for years to come. In victory or defeat, all the fighters would be respected for upholding the dignity of the sport and re-matching to give us a true champion rather than leaving it to nerdy keyboard warriors, fighting the case for superiority of their favourite fighter on boxing website comments sections. After all boxing isn’t like the movies, the sequel doesn’t need to be as exciting as the original but we do need them to give us a happy and satisfying end to a story.