Top division: Memorable WBC heavyweight title fights
The glamour division in boxing had long been the most capitvating of weight classes when the WBC heavyweight title debuted during 1970 in a match-up between ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazier and Jimmy Ellis in what for today’s era would have been close to a cruiserweight bout.
Frazier, weighing in at 205 pounds, took on Jimmy Ellis who could only make it a pound over the heavyweight limit at 201 pounds respectively.
The fight on February 16 at the world-famous Madison Square Garden only lasted four rounds as Frazier proved too strong for Ellis, becoming the World Boxing Council’s first recognised ruler at 200 pounds plus.
Since then, 101 more heavyweight bouts have followed, the last of which was Deontay Wilder’s stoppage of Gerald Washington on Saturday night.
Some of the best have been remembered fondly below in chronological order:
March 8, 1971 – Joe Frazier v Muhammad Ali
Dubbed ‘The Fight of the Century’, two undefeated superstars of the sport met in a winner-takes-all contest that captured the imagination of the public.
Frazier was making his third defense of the WBC heavyweight title as Ali prepared to compete in his third comeback fight following a trio of years out of action over his protest for being drafted into the Vietnam War.
Both fighters put their ‘0’ on the line as champion Frazier was 26-0 at the time and challenger Ali boasted a record of 31 wins without loss.
What transpired was fifteen rounds of classic action, culminating in Frazier shocking the doubters to retain his green and gold belt, along with insuring the pair would be pitted together again at some point in the future.
A massive rivalry which had brought the eyes of the world onto boxing was born out of glimpses of hatred, although the two fighters deep down had so much respect for each other and needed one another for their respective legacy.
Official ringside scores read: Bill Recht 11-4, Artie Aidala 9-6 and Arthur Mercante as a packed crowd featuring numerous big-name celebrities witnessed the first dent on Ali’s high-profile career.
January 22, 1973 – Joe Frazier v George Foreman
Less than two years on from his win over Ali, Frazier was pitted against a force of nature and juggernaut of boxing in young, fresh contender George Foreman.
Over a four-year period, 24 year-old Foreman had bludgeoned 34 opponents early from his 37 wins and had looked unstoppable in his frenzied pursuit of the title.
And so it proved as Foreman battered Frazier in just two rounds at the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica, knocking the champion down six times to inflict a maiden loss in 30 fights on the South Carolina man.
October 30, 1974 – George Foreman v Muhammad Ali
The most recognisable heavyweight contest of all time….’The Rumble in the Jungle.’
Ali went into the Zaire clash as a huge underdog, having been defeated by both Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, two opponents Foreman had dealt with easily, in the three years previously.
Riding the crest of a wave on the back of overturning his loss to Frazier in January of the same year, Ali used the crowd’s enthusiasm of chanting ‘Ali Bomaye’ coupled with the tactical genius of his ‘rope-a-dope’ plan to outfox Foreman and score a shocking upset in the eighth round.
March 24, 1975 – Muhammad Ali v Chuck Wepner
The fight famous for spawning the birth of the ‘Rocky’ franchise.
Snow-white underdog Wepner dropped the all-conquering champion in the ninth round, stunning the crowd at Richfield Coliseum in Ohio, whilst a certain Sylvester Stallone sat watching. The young actor/director was then inspired to use Wepner as the basis for his character ‘Rocky Balboa’ in the 1976 film.
Wepner took a sustained fifteen round beating as ‘The Greatest’ dance his way to victory (much like Apollo Creed in the original film), whilst the challenger earned himself plaudits for bravery and a body shot knockdown that sent Ali flying into the ropes.
October 1, 1975 – Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier III
‘The Thrilla in Manilla’ was reflected upon by Ali as ‘the closest he ever came to death’ in the ring, as the arch-enemies battled it out in the third and final instalment of their long-standing rivalry.
A relentless battle which saw both men almost fight to a standstill, was halted in the fourteenth round by Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch as the respected boxing man feared for his fighter’s health.
Recalled by many as their greatest encounter, Ali and Frazier were arguably never the same after this all-out 40 minute war. Less than a year later, Frazier retired for five years when pummelled again by George Foreman, whilst it would be another two years at the top until age finally caught up with Ali against Leon Spinks.
November 22, 1986 – Trevor Berbick v Mike Tyson
A new era began when a young Mike Tyson, aged just 20 years and four months, overhauled Floyd Patterson’s record by a year and six months to become the youngest world heavyweight champion in the history of the sport.
Tyson brutalized Berbick in two painful rounds to cement his place amongst the greats and begin a terrifying reign that would last four long years.
February 11, 1990 – Mike Tyson v James ‘Buster’ Douglas
As his reputation for a showbiz lifestyle continued to grow, Tyson admitted his training suffered in the build-up to a defense against the unfancied Douglas in Tokyo, Japan.
Despite dropping Douglas in the eighth round for an apparent count well over ten, Tyson was dropped himself in the tenth after taking masses of punishment during the round.
‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’ was ultimately unable to recover as he crawled around the canvas looking for his gumshield and one of the most shocking upsets in the history of boxing was in the books.
November 13, 1992 – Evander Holyfield v Riddick Bowe I
After dethroning Douglas in his first defense, Holyfield had enhanced his own reputation by becoming a two-weight world champion following an impressive reign at cruiserweight.
Holyfield then took on Bowe, a fight in which both fighters were undefeated when they locked horns at the Thomas and Mack Center. The encounter was the first of a trilogy between the fierce rivals that will live long in the memory of every die hard boxing fan.
On this occasion, Bowe would not be denied his first world title and took a unanimous victory before losing out in the rematch a year later. ‘Big Daddy’ would have the last laugh though as Bowe ended the third argument in 1995 with an eighth-round stoppage.
June 8, 2002 – Lennox Lewis v Mike Tyson
A fight which enjoyed a highly-controversial build-up, Lewis v Tyson drew close to two million pay-per-view buys on the back of a frenzied press conference and an intense distain for each other pre-fight.
In the end, a dominant Lewis had way too much for a battle-tired Tyson and softened up the former ruler before dishing out further punishment in the eighth and subsequently securing the knockout.
Lewis was himself coming to the final stages of his career and would retire one-year later after struggling to overcome a younger, fresher and future WBC king in Vitali Klitschko.
In contrast, Tyson lost two of his three further bouts as the New Yorker attempted to fight on, although defeats to Danny Williams and Kevin McBride left the then 39 year-old with no avenues left to explore.
More excitement is certain to be on the horizon in a category where greats are made and unexpected champions are born in boxng’s most unpredictable weight class.