This Saturday night sees perhaps the most heavily-anticipated heavyweight fight in recent memory. You know a ‘real fight’ is going down when there’s no need to orchestrate a rivalry or beef. This weekend’s showdown between Great British Hope Anthony Joshua and Ukraine’s legendary heavyweight – and brother of Vitali – Wladimir Klitschko is all about class and quality.
The Watford-born Joshua goes in as a heavy favourite. ‘Dr. Steelhammer’ may well be one of the greatest heavyweights of the modern era, but the man’s 41 and fallible nowadays. Anyone who remembers his defeat to Tyson Fury two years ago will know that. So, hopefully, AJ will prove himself as world class for the very first time.
Okay, the 27 year-old might well already hold the IBF belt, but now is the time to demonstrate that he can go on to dominate heavyweight boxing for years. And that sets us to thinking – some of our heavyweights down the years managed to mark their mark, though most didn’t. But what were their defining fights? How did they become world champs and what happened afterwards? Let’s find out, eh…?
A great deal of British boxing fans will tell you that East Ham’s Lennox Lewis is the greatest heavyweight boxer that we’ve ever produced. Sure, it took us all quite a while to get over that Canuck accent (Lewis went to high school in Ontario). But once we realised his quality? It was as if he never left. We even handily forget that he represented Canada at the 1984 Olympics.
We all remember at least one of Lewis’ classic fights, don’t we? His showdown with Frank Bruno, his vicious meeting with Mike Tyson, his shock 2001 defeat by Hasim Rahman. But the fight where his won his first pro belts? Well, there wasn’t one. After beating Razor Ruddock in October 1992, Lewis was the main contender to face Riddick Bowe for his WBC title. But Rowe refused to fight Lewis, instead preferring to hoy the belt into a bin at a press conference. So Lewis was given it by default. On May 8th, 1993 he walked into a ring with the belt for the first time and not long after put Tony Tucker on his backside for the first time in the American’s career.
There was a new heavyweight champ in town and he was the real deal. People sat up and took notice. His rivals, however, were mostly made to slump on the canvas.
It was the 2nd of September 1995 and Franklin Roy Bruno was to get into the ring for the 44th and penultimate time. Twice before he’d fought for a heavyweight title. The last time he was beaten by Mike Tyson, TKO’d in the fifth round. The first time he was stopped in the eleventh by Tim Witherspoon, way back in 1986. This was to be his last shot at glory. And he took it.
Bruno totally outgunned and totally outpointed Oliver McCall in March 1996. He was world champ. But there was to be a sour footnote in the story. The small print of the contract with McCall stated that if the Englishman won McCall’s WBC title, he’d have to fight Tyson again. A visibly frightened Bruno did so just six months later in what was to be his final fight. He got torn apart by Iron Mike and went down in the third round. That was it. Career over.
Having lost earlier in the year to the weight-jumping Tony Bellew, David Haye knows all too well how stepping up from cruiserweight to heavyweight isn’t always a huge disadvantage. Even when the guy’s significantly bigger than you. Haye himself proved just that back in 2009 when he took on the enormous Nicolai Valuev.
The Hayemaker travelled out to Nuremberg to fight the 7’2″ Russian in 2009 and didn’t let the tallest and heaviest heavyweight champion in boxing history intimidate him. It was, in truth, the freak show element that attracted a lot of viewers, but it won Haye the coveted WBA belt. He’d hold the title for nearly two years, defending it twice. Eventually he had to hand it over to Anthony Joshua’s opponent on Saturday night, Wladimir Klitschko. Haye lost on points in Hamburg to the Ukrainian. He’d go on to beat Dereck Chisora in a grudge match afterwards, but it was his defeat of Valuev that would remain a career highlight.
More Brits plying their trade abroad now. And an unlikely result. Few really backed mouthy Manc lad Tyson Fury and his unusual style against the classy Ukrainian and slayer of David Haye, Wladimir Klitschko. But in November of 2015, the big man flew over to Düsseldorf and did a real number on his opponent, winning by unanimous decision. Fury confidently swaggered off (which is, luckily, the only way he knows how to walk anyway) with belts galore. He took home the IBF, WBO, WBA and The Ring Magazine titles.
He refused to fix up another fight and was forced to relinquish his titles the next year. But Fury’s back on the warpath now, targeting a summer return to boxing. His target? WBC champ, The Bronze Bomber (that’s Deontay Wilder to you and me).
Like we’ve said, this is the defining moment of Anthony Joshua’s career. This fight against Klitschko is easily his biggest moment yet. But his first world title was won a year ago against Charles Martin. He risks that IBF title on Saturday night. But if he wins? He can add the WBA and IBO to his collection…
Is this Anthony Joshua’s time to shine? Or has this fight come a shade too soon? Will Klitschko show his class? Or will the big man’s creaking joints let him down? We reckon it’s time for a passing of the baton. AJ – we’re backing you!
Why not get yourself down to your local Rileys and enjoy the fight with us…