Boxing Only

The Last American Heavyweight

Posted: 08-03-2019
Author: Andy Farr

Being a Brit, growing up in the 1970s and 80s it's fair to say that the Heavyweight champion of the world was always an American, well, nearly.

Apart from universally acclaimed boxers such as Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Holmes, Tyson etc, there were lesser-known champions like "Big" John Tate, Mike Weaver, Michael Dokes, Tim Witherspoon, Pinklon Thomas, Greg Page, Tony Tubbs, Tony Tucker and Michael Spinks. The rest of the world tried and failed apart from South African Gerrie Coetzee who initially failed in challenges against Tate and Weaver before becoming WBA champion knocking out Mike Dokes in the 10th round in 1983.

In 1989, Italian former Olympic silver medallist Francesco Damiani won the inaugural WBO heavyweight title from South African Johnny Du Plooy but lost it to Ray Mercer.

Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier
Two of the greatest Amercan heavyweight champions: Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier

Perhaps the best non-American to win a version of the title in the 1980s was transplanted Jamaican Trevor Berbick. Boxing out of Canada, Berbick lost a close decision to Larry Holmes for the WBC title in 1981 but 15 fights later beat Pinklon Thomas to take the same title. Berbick lost his title in his first defence to "Iron" Mike Tyson, no disgrace there.

James "Buster" Douglas, Ray Mercer, Evander Holyfield, Riddick Bowe and Michael Moorer carried the assorted titles at the start of the 1990s until Britain's Lennox Lewis destroyed Donovan "Razor" Ruddock in a final eliminator which later led to Lewis being declared WBC champion when Riddick Bowe decided not to defend against him.

Tyson vs Lewis
Tyson vs Lewis was a hugely anticipated heavyweight title fight

Although Lewis suffered unexpected defeats against Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman in title defences, he avenged both losses and went on to beat Tyson, Holyfield and Vitali Klitschko amongst others before retiring.

After Lewis retired, the Klitschko brothers dominated the division, sure there were American heavyweights winning a version of the title here and there, namely Chris Byrd John Ruiz, Roy Jones Jnr, Shannon Briggs and Lamont Brewster but in real-world terms, the great American heavyweights had all but disappeared.


Enter Deontay Leshun Wilder. After winning all 33 professional fights, all by KO, Wilder outpointed Canadian Bermaine Stiverne to win the WBC title in 2015. Unheralded Charles Martin won the vacant IBF version in strange circumstances in January 2016 when opponent Vyacheslav Glazkov injured his knee in the third round. Martin took a big money defence against former Olympic Gold medallist Anthony Joshua in England less than 3 months later and was destroyed in 2 rounds. 

Deontay Wilder battles Luis Ortiz
A career defining fight should have been all Deontay Wilder needed to get American fans behind him. Wilder vs Ortiz should have been that fight.

Wilder went on to make 8 defences of his title including a sensational knock out of Cuban Luis "King Kong" Ortiz and a split draw against the Lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury of England.

Finally, America has a bona fide world heavyweight champion.

The division is in a good state with only two fighters holding the four major sanctioning body's titles. Both of these fighters have made great defences of their titles against top opposition. So why isn't Deontay Wilder able to generate interest in the USA in the same way Anthony Joshua is in the UK?

In any era, Wilder is a top talent. His career-defining fights against Ortiz and Fury mark him as a great heavyweight. Am I saying that Ortiz and Fury are great? No, but they would be top contenders in any era. Wilder has tremendous power in his right hand. He is unorthodox in his technique and looks wild at times but he can box a bit when he needs too.

Try and imagine Wilder against the Wladimir Klitschko who was knocked out by Corrie Sanders or Lamont Brewster. Imagine Wilder against the Lennox Lewis Ko'd by Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman. Right time, right place.

It has been said that heavyweight boxing isn't popular any longer with Americans. With Mayweather earning mega purses for essentially boring title defences and Mexican Saul Alvarez hand-picking his opponents for a long period until he was matched against GGG, why were Americans paying $60 - $100 for PPV events like these? Deontay delivers excitement, Deontay has KO'd 39 of his 41 opponents. Why weren't his title defences on PPV?

I hope for the sake of boxing worldwide, that the USA get behind their man. He's a great heavyweight. Let's say for the sake of argument that from the time he won the WBC title, Wilder's defences had been well supported PPV events, do you think for one moment he wouldn't have Joshua, Fury, Dillian Whyte etc all lined up like ducks at a fairground?