The championship champagne had dried up, but the euphoria created by the Cleveland Cavaliers’ come-from-behind victory over the Golden State Warriors continues to be felt. For the record, the Cavaliers became the first team in NBA Finals history to overcome a 3-to-1 deficit and win the championship.
As this writer loves to say, the true measure of a champion is measured not solely by his ability to recover from a loss, but from his ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The Warriors came within one win of repeating as NBA champs, but the Cavaliers refused to throw in the white towel of surrender.
The Cavaliers’ unbelievable victory has sports fans sharing epic come from behind wins in the world of sports. Mind you, pro boxing is no exception when it comes to such type of victories. Flipping the pages of history, at least three fights stand out. All fights were for a world title and saw the winner overcoming tremendous odds. Like the Cavaliers, the winners in these boxing matches looked at defeat straight in the eye and did not blink.
In 1958, American Archie Moore pulled off a Lazarus act when he turned back Yvon Durelle of Canada to retain the world light heavyweight title. The younger Durelle came out smoking and floored a 45-year-old Moore three times in the opening round. Moore claimed that in the first knockdown, he hit the canvas head-first and was lucky to beat the count.
Moore worked his way back into the fight and was looking good until a vicious right from Durelle sent him to the canvas for the fourth time. An ordinary boxer would have given up, but Moore somehow managed to recover. In an unbelievable comeback, Moore floored Durelle four times on his way to a hard-earned 11th round knockout victory.
Twenty-three years later, in September 1981, American Sugar Ray Leonard unified the WBA and WBC welterweight titles with a gutsy 14th round stoppage of the then unbeaten Thomas ‘Hit Man’ Hearns of Detroit.
Leonard started well but encountered huge problems when the lanky Hearns started to box. Leonard’s left eye was swollen shut and he looked pretty much beaten up at the end of the 12th round. Just before the start of the 13th, trainer Angelo Dundee told Leonard the now legendary words “You’re blowing it now, son! You’re blowing it!”
Leonard responded by coming out like a man possessed. He literally chased Hearns with one good eye and almost sent him clear through the ropes in the 13th round. In the 14th stanza, Leonard unloaded a savage combination that convinced the referee to waive the fight over. At the time of the stoppage, Hearns was ahead on all three scorecards. In 1996, The Ring magazine ranked this fight as the ninth greatest title bout of all time.
Easily the most memorable comeback in pro boxing (with a world title at stake) was the 1980 showdown between Americans Mike Weaver and John Tate for the WBA heavyweight title.
The unbeaten Tate, a former Olympian, was making the first defense of the WBA heavyweight title against a seemingly harmless Weaver, who went into the fight with a spotty record of 21 wins and 9 losses. Tate had just signed a deal with Top Rank and Bob Arum was hyping him as the next Muhammad Ali following the latter’s retirement.
Tate was a 2-to-1 favorite and it showed in almost the entire fight. Going into the 15th and final round, Tate was way ahead on points (138-133, 137-134 and 136-133) and needed only to coast. On the other hand, manager Don Manuel berated a passive Weaver after the ninth round and told him: “You got no chance to win if you don’t go out and throw some punches!”
With about a minute left in the 15th round, Weaver unleashed a Hail Mary left hook that landed squarely on the jaw of a visibly tired Tate. To the shock of the crowd, an unconscious Tate fell face-first to the canvas. Weaver was declared the new heavyweight champion. Years later, Weaver disclosed that he said a prayer and asked for strength just before the 15th round.
Clearly, Weaver’s prayer for a miracle was answered. Three decades later, the Cavaliers arguably uttered the same prayer and were rewarded, too.
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