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Muhammad Ali to Oleksandr Usyk: heavyweight boxing’s unified champions ranked

Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali stands over fallen challenger Sonny Liston, shouting and gesturing shortly after dropping Liston with a short hard right to the jaw in Lewiston, Maine. Ali, the magnificent heavyweight champion whose fast fists and irrepressible personality transcended sports and captivated the world, has died according to a statement released by his family Friday, June 3, 2016. He was 74
Muhammad Ali – the greatest? - AP Photo/John Rooney

Oleksandr Usyk’s victory over Tyson Fury vaulted him into rarified air in boxing history, alongside some of the sport’s true greats.

But how does he rank against the other undisputed heavyweight champions?

1. Lennox Lewis - WBC, WBA, IBF - November 1999 to April 2000

Lewis was the last undisputed heavyweight world champion reigning for 25
years until Fury-Usyk. Lewis avenged both his losses, had won Olympic gold and with his powerful ramrod jab, huge right hand, and presence in the ring, there is a strong argument to make him the greatest of them all in the modern era.

Never fought Riddick Bowe in the professional ranks, but had beaten Bowe in the Olympics. Defeated all-comers otherwise, including Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson, and Vitali Klitschko.

2. Muhammad Ali - WBC, WBA - October 1974 to February 1978

They called Ali The Greatest, he called himself The Greatest, and the brilliant fighter, showman, and activist is my view the most important boxer of the modern era, for his impact on society, and the most-watched fights he was involved in.

Heavyweight boxers Muhammad Ali (white shorts, 1942 - 2016) and Joe Frazier (1944 - 2011) in action during their championship bout in Quezon City, Manila, Philippines, October 1st 1975
Muhammad Ali's victory over Joe Frazier in Manila in 1975 ranks as one of the greatest in boxing history - Getty Images/Bettmann

The Fight of the Century in 1971, the Thrilla in Manila both against Joe Frazier and the Rumble In The Jungle in 1974 against George Foreman are three of the most talked about events of all-time in the sport. Ali combined skills, movement and pure entertainment. Also Olympic gold medallist. Rome 1960.

3. George Foreman - WBC, WBA - January 1973 to October 1974

Big George was hit like a cannon, ripped Joe Frazier apart, and went undefeated until he met Muhammad Ali in Kinshasa, Zaire in 1974. Frighteningly powerful, he was undefeated in 40 fights until then, all
but three of those contests by stoppage.

Remarkably, Foreman came back after ten years retired to become the oldest heavyweight champ in history, aged 46. Another Olympic gold medallist. 1968 Mexico.

4. Mike Tyson - WBC, WBA, IBF - August 1987 to February 1990

At 20 years old, he was the youngest heavyweight champion in history, and he really was the Baddest Man On The Planet in the late 80s. Tyson is the world’s most famous living boxer, and in a colourful and controversial early life, wiped out all his contenders at world level from 1986 onwards and with his swarming, fast, muscular style, speed and arcing punches, dominated until 1990.

First heavyweight to hold WBC, WBA and IBF titles simultaneously. His reign came to an end in a shock defeat to 42-1 outsider Buster Douglas in Tokyo in 1990. But on his top form, his pressure was too much for even the top contenders.

5. Evander Holyfield - WBC, WBA, IBF - October 1990 to November 1992

The Real Deal, as his ring sobriquet went, was exactly that. My belief is that although Evander defeated Mike Tyson in the late 90s, he would not have beaten Tyson in his pomp in the late 80s. But Evander was durable, brilliant, technical, tough, and had a phenomenal engine and very good chin.

Evander Holyfield possessed an ideal blend of skills for a heavyweight
Evander Holyfield possessed an ideal blend of skills for a heavyweight - ALLSPORT/M. David Leeds

Holyfield also did what Usyk has done, being undisputed champion at cruiserweight and heavyweight, his reign including victories over an old Foreman, and an ageing Larry Holmes.

6. Oleksandr Usyk - WBC, WBO, WBA, IBF - May 2024.

Usyk became No 26 in history to be an undisputed champion, by dint of a brilliant performance against Tyson Fury in which he turned the fight around in the ninth round after a torrid assault on his rival the ‘Gypsy King’. Usyk showed great obduracy after being under great pressure from Fury at the midway point in the fight.

His split decision victory 115-112, 114-113, 113-114 gave the Ukrainian all the belts, adding the WBC title to the IBF, WBA and WBO belts he took from Anthony Joshua. Brilliant footwork, pressure, fighting IQ with notably the left hand and ring generalship.

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