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In boxing or mixed martial arts, "tomato can" is an idiom for a fighter with poor or diminished skills who may be considered an easy opponent to defeat, or a "guaranteed win." Fights with "tomato cans" can be arranged to inflate the win total of a professional fighter.



A "tomato can" is usually a fighter with a poor record, whose skills are substandard or who lacks toughness or has a "glass chin." Sometimes a formerly successful boxer who is past his prime and who has seen his skills diminish is considered a "tomato can" if he can no longer compete at a high level. Such an individual is an attractive opponent if his name still carries prestige but his diminished skills make him an easy conquest.

Most fighters who are considered "tomato cans" are heavyweights, because at lower weight classes one must maintain a certain level of fitness in order to make weight, whereas a heavyweight who once fought at a trim 205 pounds could conceivably gain 150 pounds and still fight in the same division.

One characteristic which may account for the use of the "tomato can" metaphor for a bad boxer is the tendency to leak "tomato juice" (i.e. blood) when battered.

"Tomato cans" are similar to jobbers in professional wrestling in that they serve to enhance the stature of someone the promotion uses to draw a crowd.

Actual boxing people have a somewhat different view of the term. In the lingo they actually use, "tomato can" is reserved for the lowest level of potential competition. There are, in descending order: champions, contenders, fringe contenders, journeymen, opponents, and "tomato cans", and they all exist in every weight division. The terms are not interchangeable ("journeyman" is actually a term of respect) and almost none of the individuals referred to here as "tomato cans" would be considered so under that definition of the phrase.

Surprises and upsets

It must be noted that victory over a "tomato can" is not a certainty. Journeyman boxers generally regarded as "tomato cans" have been known to provide surprising challenges to champions and in several instances, cause shocking upsets against supposedly superior opponents.

On March 24, 1975, Muhammad Ali faced Chuck Wepner, a lightly regarded but popular boxer from New Jersey. A former nightclub bouncer, Wepner was nicknamed the "The Bayonne Bleeder" and was considered a washed-up contender with a poor record. Don King selected Wepner as a "tomato can" to provide an easy victory for Ali after his famous win over George Foreman.[1] In a surprising turn of events, Wepner scored a disputed knockdown in the ninth round, and survived 19 seconds short of the distance, before losing to a TKO in the 15th round.[2] Wepner's bout with Ali provided the inspiration for Sylvester Stallone's movie Rocky. Rocky III would continue this trend where Rocky himself was accused of defending his championship with "tomato cans", before he is challenged by Clubber Lang.[3]

In a fight on February 11, 1990, Mike Tyson lost his championship to James "Buster" Douglas in Tokyo.[4] The victory over Tyson, the previously undefeated "baddest man on the planet" and the most feared boxer in professional boxing at that time, at the hands of the 42-1 betting odds underdog Douglas, has been described as one of the most shocking upsets in modern sports history.[5] Douglas was widely regarded as a "tomato can", lined up to provide an easy victory for Tyson at that time. Later, Douglas lost his first title defense against Evander Holyfield and was never able to successfully compete at such a high level again.[6]

Other notable examples


  1. ^ CHUCK WEPNER, New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame, 1982-10-29, Retrieved on 2007-03-31.
  2. ^ Tomato Cans: MUHAMMAD ALI vs. CHUCK WEPNER, CNN / SI, Retrieved on 2007-03-31.
  3. ^ CHUCK WEPNER, THE REAL ROCKY,, Retrieved on 2007-03-31.
  4. ^ Kincade, Kevin., "The Moments": Mike Tyson vs Buster Douglas,, 2005-07-12, Retrieved on 2007-03-26.
  5. ^ Staff, Page 2's List for top upset in sports history,, 2001-05-23, Retrieved on 2007-03-26.
  6. ^ Kanew, Evan., Tomato Cans:JAMES (BUSTER) DOUGLAS vs. MIKE TYSON, CNN/SI, Retrieved on 2008-01-15.
  7. ^ CNN/SI - Tomato Cans
  8. ^ CNN/SI - Tomato Cans p. 2
  9. ^ CNN/SI - Tomato Cans p. 4
  10. ^ CNN/SI - Tomato Cans p. 6
  11. ^ Sandomir, Richard (1995), "TV SPORTS; Who Must Tyson Face Next? A Finer Brand of Tomato Can", The New York Times, Sports Desk, Late Edition - Final, Section B, Page 8, Column 1, 1995-08-22. Abstract: "If you paid $45.95 for Saturday's Mike Tyson fight, and you felt ripped off, even astonished by its brevity, you must have ignored all we knew about how undeserving a challenger Peter McNeeley was. He was a hurricane without an eye. Other tomato cans are insulted when stacked on a shelf beside him."

External links

  • Tomato Cans - A CNN/SI gallery of "tomato cans" in modern heavyweight pro-boxing history.


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