There's a reason for the old saying: "They never come back."
It is very difficult for a fighter to return to the ring after a lengthy absence. But that is exactly what Felix "Tito" Trinidad will try to do -- after being out of boxing for two years and nine months -- when he meets Roy Jones on Saturday.
Trinidad looked good when returning from a layoff of two years, five months, to stop Ricardo Mayorga in 2004. However, he was then outclassed by Winky Wright.
Muhammad Ali came back from his enforced 3½-year layoff and appeared to be almost as good as ever against Jerry Quarry, but five months later he lost the classic fight with Joe Frazier -- and Ali's 1980 comeback bout with Larry Holmes was a sad affair.
Then there was Sugar Ray Robinson, who came from a two-year retirement to regain the middleweight title -- but Sugar Ray had difficulties in the initial bouts after the layoff, including an upset loss to Ralph "Tiger" Jones.
Way back in 1892, in the first heavyweight championship bout in which boxing gloves were worn, John L. Sullivan, the old bare-knuckle champ, had his first fight in four years and was outboxed and knocked out by Jim Corbett. Ever since, a fighter coming back from retirement has usually had problems -- and coming right back in a major fight, which Trinidad is doing, is especially difficult.
Here is a look at 10 boxers who went from retirement (or lengthy inactivity) directly into a big fight.
Sugar Ray Leonard
The underdog and considered by some to be putting his health at serious risk, Sugar Ray Leonard pulled off a remarkable comeback victory when he outpointed middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler in April 1987. Not only had Leonard been inactive for three years, he had never boxed above the junior middleweight division and had undergone surgery to repair a detached retina. "Fight Doctor" Ferdie Pacheco told Ron Wills of the British tabloid the Daily Mirror: "Leonard is risking blindness -- he may even be risking his life."
Leonard prepared diligently, including having perhaps as many as four unofficial fights behind closed doors ("It's more than my job's worth to talk about it," Ralph Citro, hired by Leonard to work on any possible cuts in the fight, told British Sunday tabloid The People). Leonard had studied Hagler closely and was convinced he had the tactical plan, speed and style to frustrate and outpoint him, and so it proved, although the split decision in Sugar Ray's favor was debatable.
Leonard's two subsequent returns from retirement were unsuccessful. In February 1991, after a 14-month layoff, he was soundly beaten by Terry Norris in a junior middleweight title fight. Then, after being inactive for six years, he was stopped in five rounds by Hector Camacho in a pay-per-view middleweight fight. Leonard told the media: "I haven't been this excited about a fight since Marvin Hagler," but at the age of 40 he was a shadow of his once brilliant self.
The great old former heavyweight champion came back at the age of 36 because of financial problems concerning unpaid taxes. Despite more than two years of inactivity, Louis was actually the betting favorite over Ezzard Charles, who was seven years younger, in their title bout at Yankee Stadium. People remembered Louis' punching power and his many big-fight knockouts. Columnist Arthur Daley was among those tipping Louis to knock out Charles, writing in The New York Times: "The Brown Bomber has to hit him only once to win and the firm belief here is that Louis will get in that one good punch." He didn't. Charles won a widely scored, unanimous decision. James P. Dawson reported in The New York Times that Charles "punched Joe around the ring as if he were an inanimate punching bag."
James J. Jeffries
The search for the so-called White Hope brought James J. Jeffries out of a six-year retirement to meet the first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, on July 4, 1910, outdoors in Reno, Nev. Jeffries made no secret of the fact that the public had "forced" him to come back. "I realize full well what depends on me, and I am not going to disappoint the public," he said. World champions such as Tommy Burns and Abe Attell were picking Jeffries, while Stanley Ketchel, Battling Nelson and Jack Root favored Johnson. Although Jeffries had trained long and hard, he was no match for the more skilled Johnson, finally going down to defeat in the 15th round of the scheduled 25-round fight. Old champ John L. Sullivan covered the fight and wrote in somewhat flowery prose in The New York Times: "All of Jeffries' much-vaunted condition and the prodigious preparations that he went through availed him nothing. He wasn't in it from the first bell tap to the last, and as he fell bleeding, bruised and weakened in the 27th second of the third minute of the 15th round, no sorrier sight has ever gone to make pugilistic history."
Having retired 21 months earlier after a disputed decision loss to Michael Spinks, former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes came back to meet Mike Tyson at the Atlantic City Convention Center in January 1988. Holmes' trainer, Richie Giachetti, told the media: "It looks like the layoff did him good. He's the old Larry Holmes again." Well, not exactly. Holmes boxed well initially, winning the first round, but Tyson was too young, too fast and too powerful for the 38-year-old ex-champ, overwhelming him with three knockdowns in the fourth round. Hugh McIlvanney reported in the British newspaper The Observer that the fight "became the slaughter that logic had always suggested it must be."
Germany's former light heavyweight champ "Gentleman" Henry Maske, inactive for more than a decade, came back in a one-off comeback last March at the age of 43. In a supremely satisfying victory, Maske gained revenge for his only loss by defeating Virgil Hill in a 12-round cruiserweight "special attraction" in Munich, Germany. Maske had prepared meticulously, including having taken part in two unofficial fights in private. He negotiated the advantageous (for him) weight of 190 pounds, instead of the cruiserweight limit of 200 pounds, for the Hill bout. Maske boxed a careful, tactically perfect fight to outpoint Hill, who although a reigning champion, was the same age as Maske.
James J. Corbett
"Gentleman Jim" Corbett had been inactive for three years when he attempted to regain the heavyweight title from James J. Jeffries in August 1903. In a previous meeting, Corbett had boxed extremely well before being knocked out in the 23rd round. He was again knocked out in the rematch, this time in the 10th round, when he was twice floored.
The undefeated "Polish Tiger" Dariusz Michalczewski looked in great trim physically when he attempted to regain the light heavyweight title in February 2005, after 16 months on the sidelines. But Frenchman Fabrice Tiozzo hammered him to defeat in six rounds.
Mexico's great former featherweight champion Vicente Saldivar had ended his career on a winning note in 1971 but could not resist trying to regain the title, at the age of 30 and after being inactive for two years. He was knocked out in the fourth round by the marvelous Eder Jofre, who was 37, in Brazil in October 1973.
Three-time heavyweight title challenger Axel Schulz decided to give the game another try, but at the age of 39, and after seven years' inactivity, he just didn't have it any more and was badly beaten in six rounds by Pennsylvania native Brian Minto in Halle, Germany. Even though it was a non-title fight, it was a big occasion in Germany.
For many, this is the saddest comeback of them all. Ali, the great three-time heavyweight champion, returned to face the unbeaten Larry Holmes at Las Vegas' Caesars Palace, in October 1980. Ali had not boxed for two years, but he had worked hard in training (although hair dye blacked out traces of gray), and reporter Dudley Doust noted in Britain's The Sunday Times "he looks amazingly fit for a 38-year-old trouper." There was no doubt which boxer was the crowd favorite. At Holmes' public sparring sessions the crowd chanted: "Ali, Ali, Ali!" Ali's popularity and enduring mystique caused the odds on Holmes to drop in the countdown to the big fight so that the champion, who was eight years younger than Ali, amazingly was only an 8-5 favorite.
The harsh reality was that Ali had deteriorated alarmingly. It was 10 rounds of target practice for Holmes before Ali was retired by his cornerman, Angelo Dundee. As Pat Putnam reported in Sports Illustrated, Ali was "betrayed by a body that no longer obeyed the commands of his ego."
Graham Houston is the American editor of Boxing Monthly and writes for FightWriter.com.