When three-time heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali died at 74 in 2016, boxing lost arguably its greatest heavyweight of all time.
Who is currently the No. 1 living heavyweight?
Well, that’s up for debate, which is the point of this special report. Boxing Junkie gives you the 10 greatest living members of the sport’s glamour division.
Here’s the list, in reverse order.
Record: 55-13-1 (38 KOs)
Title reign(s): 1984 and 1986
Background: One could argue that Witherspoon was just one of many limited heavyweights who won titles before the arrival of Mike Tyson as the dominant big man. That’s true. Heavyweight “champions” like John Tate, Mike Weaver, Michael Dokes, Gerrie Coetzee, Pinklon Thomas, Greg Page and Tony Tubbs are remembered as so-so fighters if they’re remembered at all. However, Witherspoon, a good boxer with some power, was a tad better than the rest at his peak. That was evident when the Philadelphian came within a whisker of upsetting Hall of Famer Larry Holmes in 1983 at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas, a competitive fight he lost by a split decision. Many thought Witherspoon deserved the decision. He ended up having two short reigns as a titleholder in the mid-1980s but never again received an opportunity to fight for a belt. He continued to fight until 2003, when he was 45.
Record: 31-0-1 (22 KOs)
Title reign(s): 2015-16; 2020-present
Background: Fury removed any doubts about his ability when he schooled long-reigning champion Wladimir Klitschko to win three of the four major heavyweight belts in November 2015. He has been the man to beat ever since. And no one has. His remarkable ability and athleticism given his stature – 6-foot-9 – has enabled him to remain unbeaten, including a three-fight series with rival Deontay Wilder after returning from a 2½-year hiatus to get his life in order. Most believe he deserved the nod in their first fight (a draw) and he scored knockouts in Nos. 2 and 3. The third fight, which took place in October, seems to be everyone’s favorite to be named Fight of the Year. What’s next for Fury? He’s working on a deal to defend his belt against Dillian Whyte. He then could face the winner of the tentative Oleksandr Usyk-Anthony Joshua rematch for all the marbles. Bottom line: He’s still the man until someone takes him down.
Active: 1996-2004; 2008-12
Record: 45-2 (41 KOs)
Title reign(s): 1999-2000; 2004-05; 2008-13
Background: “Dr. Ironfist” was overshadowed by his younger brother, who had a longer, higher-profile reign as champion. However, the elder Klitschko built his own Hall of Fame career using a more physical style than his sibling. He made one of the more impressive comebacks of the era. And his only two losses were largely the result of injuries. The former kickboxing champion won his first boxing title in 1999, when he stopped Herbie Hide in two rounds. He successfully defended two times before he lost to Chris Byrd because of an injured shoulder. He lost in a bid to dethrone Lennix Lewis because of a bad cut in 2003 but won a vacant title by stopped Corrie Sanders two fights later. He left the sport in 2004 because of nagging injuries only to return in 2008, stop Samuel Peter to regain a title, successfully defend nine times and retire as champion. He went on to become the mayor of Kiev, Ukraine.
Record: 64-5 (53 KOs)
Title reign(s): 1996-2017
Background: Klitschko is one of the most accomplished heavyweights of all time. “Dr. Steelhammer” had problems early and midway through his career – inexplicably getting knocked out by Ross Purrity, Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster – but he found his groove and ruled the division for more than a decade with his long, punishing jab, mighty right hand and impressive ring acumen. He didn’t fight in an era laden with quality heavyweights but he beat everyone placed in front of him, recording 23 successful title defenses over two reigns. That’s second only to Joe Louis in the history of the sport. He was heavyweight champion for a combined 12 years, which is No. 1 all time. He was finally taken down by Tyson Fury (UD) and then Anthony Joshua (TKO 11) in his final two fights but he had left an indelible mark.
Active: 1985-91; 1995-2005
Record: 50-6 (44 KOs)
Title reign(s): 1986-90; 1996
Background: “Iron Mike” was the biggest sensation in boxing since Muhammad Ali was at his peak, as he destroyed every terrified opponent in his path en route to becoming the youngest ever to win the heavyweight championship at 20. He earned that distinction by stopping Trevor Berbick in 1986, after which he continued to lay waste to the top big men of the day. That included Larry Holmes and Michael Spinks, who he knocked out in 91 seconds. That was followed with trouble. He lost his crown in a stunning upset against Buster Douglas in 1990 and went to prison a few years later after a rape conviction. He returned to regain a major title by stopping Frank Bruno in 1996 but was KO’d himself by Evander Holyfield later that year. He then played the villain in one of boxing’s darkest events, earning a disqualification by chewing off a portion of Holyfield’s ear in the rematch and was never the same. He has become a popular elder statesman in recent years, including well-received exhibitions.
Active: 1989-96; 2004-08
Record: 43-1 (33 KOs)
Title reign(s): 1992-93; 1995-96
Background: Bowe, a big heavyweight with exceptional skills, athleticism and power, is considered by many to be an underachiever for lack of long-term discipline and perhaps desire. However, he was a two-time champion who defeated many quality opponents during his Hall of Fame career. The 1988 Olympic silver medalist, who lost to Lennox Lewis in the final, is perhaps best remembered for winning two of three classic fights against Evander Holyfield but he also defeated Pinklon Thomas, Tyrell Biggs, Tony Tubbs, Bruce Seldon, Michael Dokes and Larry Donald. He has disqualification victories in two surreal fights against Andrew Golota, who couldn’t keep his punches above the belt. One knock on Bowe: He tossed his WBC belt into a trash can rather than face Lewis. The two never met. Still, Bowe, whose only loss was to Holyfield, is considered one of the best heavyweights of his era.
Record: 44-10-2 (29 KOs)
Title reign(s): 1986-88; 1990-92; 1993-94; 1996-99
Background: “The Real Deal” might’ve been the greatest big man of all time had he been a natural heavyweight. The 1984 Olympic bronze medalist was arguably the top cruiserweight ever, having gone 18-0 (14 KOs) and reigning as champion from 1986 to 1988. He then followed the money to the heavyweight division, where he would become the first four-time titleholder. He had great success early in his career as a heavyweight, stopping Buster Douglas to win the title in 1990 and beating a string of contenders. He proved to be human in his 30s, when went 1-2 in an epic trilogy against Riddick Bowe and 0-1-1 against Lewis. However, he recorded his highest-profile victories in mid-30s, an 11th-round knockout of heavily favored Mike Tyson and a disqualification in the rematch when Tyson bit his ear. Holyfield was still competitive into his late 40s before finally calling it quits in 2011, although he came back at 58 to face former MMA star Vitor Belfort last month and was knocked out.
Record: 41-2-1 (32 KOs)
Title reign(s): 1992-94; 1997-2001; 2001-04
Background: The strapping 1988 Olympic champion defeated every opponent he faced as a professional with superb all-around ability, unwavering confidence in himself and a right hand from hell, dodging no one along the way. Lewis had three reigns as heavyweight champion, the result of shocking knockout losses to Oliver McCall (1994) and Hasim Rahim (2001) that he later avenged in emphatic fashion. He went 1-0-1 against fellow Hall of Famer Evander Holyfield, although almost everyone believes he deserved the nod in the draw. He destroyed Mike Tyson in eight rounds in his highest-profile fight. And he retired on a high note, shortly after stopping a bloodied Vitali Klitschko in 2003. He’s considered by many to be the greatest European heavyweight of all time. One of the most-liked figures in boxing is now working as a television analyst.
Active: 1969-77; 1987-97
Record: 76-5 (68 KOs)
Title reign(s): 1973-74; 1994-95
Background: “Big George’s” late-career work as a jovial television pitchman might obscure his accomplishments in the ring. He was a monster. The 1968 Olympic gold medalist had two pro careers separated by a 10-year hiatus. And he was a heavyweight champion in both. The earlier version of Foreman was an imposing, brooding slugger who laid waste to anyone who got in his way. He started his career 40-0 (37 KOs). That included a second-round knockout of Joe Frazier to win the title and a second-round KO of Ken Norton in his second defense. He seemed unbeatable … until he met Muhammad Ali, who stopped him in eight. He continued to fight until 1977, at which time he left boxing to pursue a career as a minister. He returned to the sport in 1987, fought himself into shape and, on an unforgettable evening, stopped Michael Moorer at 45 to become champion 20 years after losing his title to Ali.
Record: 69-6 (44 KOs)
Title reign(s): 1978-85
Background: Holmes had the misfortune of taking the torch from Muhammad Ali – how could he live up to that standard? – but his record speaks for itself. “The Easton Assassin” narrowly outpointed fellow Hall of Famer Ken Norton to win the heavyweight championship in June 1978 and, fighting behind arguably the greatest jab in history, he held the sport’s most-coveted title until Michael Spinks spoiled his perfect record (48-0 at the time) by a split decision in September 1985. His combined (WBC and IBF) reign of seven years is the sixth longest in history. And his 20 victories in title fights ranks No. 4 all time, behind only Joe Louis (27), Wladimir Klitschko (25) and Muhammad Ali (22). Holmes didn’t defeat a long list of Hall of Famers but he knocked off some good fighters, including Norton, Earnier Shavers (twice), Ali, Gerry Cooney, Tim Witherspoon and Ray Mercer. And he was still competitive into his 40s.