The 15 Greatest British Heavyweight Boxers In History
Anthony Joshua is well on his way to cementing his place in the pantheon of great British boxers, but there is some serious competition amongst his peers. There have been plenty of great British heavyweight since the very beginning of professional prize fighting and we have brought together the 15 very best of them.
15. William Hague (21-9-1)
Long before ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson was ripping through the heavyweight division, William ‘Iron’ Hague was making a big impression of his own on the big men in boxing. The Yorkshireman smashed his way to a shot at the British title in 1909 which he won by knocking out Gunner Moir in the first round, setting a record for the quickest ever title win. He fought the great Canadian Sam Langford in the same year and knocked his opponent down with a punch Langford described as the hardest he ever took – considering Langford finished with a record of 180-29-39, that was some accolade.
14. Herbie Hide (49-4)
The achievements of Herbie Hide can be forgotten, but he was doing great things in the early 1990s and held a world title and an undefeated record at one stage. The Dancing Destroyer got himself to 26-0 and his hands on the WBO world title after knocking out Michael Bentt in Millwall in 1994. He may have lost it in his next outing against Riddick Bowe, but he regained the vacant belt by beating Tony Tucker in 1997. Hide defended it twice before being cleaned out in two rounds by Vitali Klitschko in 1999, but a two-time world champ during a time of some very solid heavyweight contenders is not to be sniffed at.
13. Don Cockell (66-14-1)
The Londoner may never have got his hands on a world title but it was somewhat harder to do so in his pomp in the 1950s. Cockell did have one shot at world glory, but was knocked out by the legendary Rocky Marciano in San Francisco in 1955. Cockell was only 5’11” and had held the British and European champion at light heavyweight before winning the British and Commonwealth championships at heavyweight.
12. Henry Akinwande (50-4-1)
Another forgotten British world champion who does not quite get the credit he deserves, but who once held a massive unbeaten record and a world title. Akinwande was 32-0-1 in 1997 and had defended his WBO title twice having knocked out Jeremy Williams for the strap in 1996. A disqualification against Lennox Lewis in ’97 cost him that belt and that undefeated record and he never regained that glory at world level, but throughout the early and mid-90s when he picked up Commonwealth, European and world honours – Akinwande was one of the most feared men on the planet.
11. Bombardier Billy Wells (41-11)
The first man to hold the heavyweight Lonsdale belt and the holder of the British title from 1911-1919, Bombardier Billy Wells is a legend of the early days of prize fighting in Britain. The Londoner defended his British title 14 times and also picked up the Commonwealth belt during his legendary career. He never went further than that, losing to the great Georges Carpentier for the European title in 1913.
10. Bruce Woodcock (35-4)
The Doncaster man moved up from light heavyweight to capture the British and Commonwealth heavyweight titles by stopping the vastly experienced Jack London in 1945. He racked up a record of 25-0 before losing on his American debut to The Bronx Barkeep Tami Mauriello, but Woodcock recovered well, winning the vacant European strap in the same year (1946). Woodcock only got one shot at world glory for himself, being stopped by Lee Savold in 1950, but he was a powerhouse in British boxing throughout the 1940s.
9. David Haye (28-3)
The Hayemaker is in danger of damaging his legacy somewhat, but at one stage he was one of the biggest stars in boxing as he moved up from a unified cruiserweight champion to winning the WBA world heavyweight title in 2009. Haye is a small heavyweight and he beat the tallest heavyweight champion in history in Nikolay Valuev, which was an eye-catching win to say the least. He managed two defences of his world belt before losing disappointingly to Wladimir Klitschko in the summer of 2011. He has since managed one impressive win over Dereck Chisora but his high point came in beating Valuev and earns him a spot on this list.
8. Henry Cooper (40-14-1)
One of the great names of British boxing who fought some of the greatest names in world boxing – Muhammad Ali twice, Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson to name a few. Unfortunately, Our Henry lost all four of those contests. He may not have ever claimed a world title, but he did pick up the British, Commonwealth and European belts numerous times throughout a 17-year pro career. His popularity was immense which led him to win BBC Sports Personality of the Year twice and being the first boxer to be knighted.
7. Joe Bugner (69-13-1)
A naturalised Brit after being born in Hungary, Joe Bugner got knocked out in his pro debut but went on to achieve great things that stretched, incredibly, from 1967 to 1999. His biggest night came in 1971 when he retired Henry Cooper by beating him for the British, Commonwealth and European titles, although this victory soured his relationship with the British fans. Bugner went on to fight Muhammad Ali twice and Joe Frazier once, losing all three contests but not being stopped in any which was an achievement in itself. He actually won the very lightly regarded WBF heavyweight title in 1998, stopping the equally ancient James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith in one round, which is something of an achievement, in longevity if nothing else.
6. Tommy Farr (83-34-17)
The Tonypandy Terror built up an incredibly record from his debut in 1926 till his final fight when he was knocked out by Don Cockell in 1953. It was especially impressive because the Welshman was not a big puncher, knocking out just 23 of his 83 vanquished foes. Farr started as a light heavyweight but won the Welsh heavyweight title in 1936 and then the British and Commonwealth belts the following year. This led to a shot at Joe Louis for the world title, also in 1937, which Farr lost but took the Brown Bomber 15 rounds and many thought he had actually won at Yankee Stadium. This led to more big fights against Jim Braddock and Max Baer, which Farr lost both of, but he had become an international star and one of the greatest boxers Wales has ever produced.
5. Frank Bruno (40-5)
One of the most wildly popular British boxers in history, Frank Bruno finally won a world title on the fourth attempt at the end of a thrilling career which saw him fight a load of top boxers at home and abroad. After world title losses to Tim Witherspoon, Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson, Frank finally beat Oliver McCall in 1995 to claim the WBC belt. Only to lose it to Tyson in his next fight, but he has still achieved his dream. Oddly, he never fought for the British or Commonwealth titles, but did hold the European strap over a career which saw him knockout 38 men.
4. Tyson Fury (25-0)
When Tyson Fury went to Dusseldorf and beat Wladimir Klitschko for the IBF, IBO, WBA and WBO heavyweight titles, he beat a man who hadn’t lost for 11 years and had been world champion for nine. It was an odd fight and far from a classic, but the achievement was unbelievable and Fury became the king of the heavyweight division by dethroning a dominant monarch. Fury has not fought since and that is a great shame, but he is undefeated and whatever has happened outside of the ring, his achievements within the ring cannot be ignored.
3. Anthony Joshua (19-0)
An Olympic gold medal gives Anthony Joshua huge credit, but his professional achievements alone take him a long way up this list of great British heavyweights. AJ has knocked out every single one of his opponents to date and picked up the IBF, WBA and IBO heavyweight belts in the process. The latter two of those came in one of the greatest heavyweight bouts in history when he stopped Wladimir Klitschko in the 11th round of a classic at Wembley. He does not have the names on his record to take him to the top of the British tree, but they could come and AJ could, one day, be remembered as the absolute best.
2. Bob Fitzsimmons (61-8-4)
The ‘Freckled Wonder’ was the first three-weight world champion having won the middleweight and light heavyweight titles before claiming the heavyweight crown in 1897 when he knocked out James J Corbett. In doing so, he also became the lightest heavyweight champion in history, a record he still holds. He fought twice more in heavyweight world title fights, being knocked out by James J Jeffries in both, but he, remarkably, then went down in weight to win the light heavyweight belt in 1903. Fitzsimmons recorded 57 knockouts from 61 victories which showed his devastating punching power for a man who stood shy of six foot. He retired in 1914 having produced a history-making career.
1. Lennox Lewis (41-2-1)
The only British undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, ever. That stellar accolade is enough to make Lennox Lewis the greatest heavyweight in the history of the UK. Lewis romped to 22-0 with 20 knockouts, picking up the British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight belts before he got a crack at a world strap. The Lion schooled Tony Tucker to win a clear unanimous decision and pick up the WBC title in just his 23rd pro scrap. A surprise defeat to Oliver McCall in 1994 set Lewis back, but 14 fights without defeat saw him pick up the IBF, IBO, WBA and regain the WBC title, beating the likes of Evander Holyfield, Shannon Briggs, Michael Grant and avenging the loss to McCall along the way. Then came the massive upset to defeat to Hasim Rahman, but Lewis avenged that before rounding off his career in style by defeating Mike Tyson and Vitali Klitschko to retire at the top.
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