The Dominant Heavyweights of the decades – 60s-00s

Muhammed AliBy Jim Dorney: The purpose of this article is to confirm which boxer in the sport’s glamour division was the main man of his decade. This has been a matter of some debate, and will no doubt continue to be so, but I’d like to throw my picks in the mix & see what the good reading public of Eastside make of it. Along with my overall choice for each decade I’ll give a few honorable mentions.

I feel it’s key before I go any further to specify that my choices are based on achievements in context (not only titles & defenses, but who they beat and at what stage their opponents were at) as opposed to hype & media attention. This will account for a couple of what might be perceived to be some controversial choices…

1960s – Muhammad Ali

For me, this is a no-brainer. After Floyd Patterson had the glory days at the end of the 1950s, Sonny Liston, the dark & brooding figure who lurked in the shadows like a sinister heir apparent finally got his chance at the world title in September 1962, knocking Patterson out in the very first round, a feat which he repeated equally emphatically the next February. Liston struck such fear into the hearts of his opponents he seemed unbeatable – Until he ran into a fresh-faced young Cassius Clay.

After Clay pulled off what was a massive upset, he changed his name to what the world now knows him as- Muhammad Ali.

Ali went on to wreak havoc through the rest of the sixties, beating the likes of Patterson, Liston (again), Cleveland Willams, Ernie Terrell, Henry Cooper & Zora Folley before losing both his title & his license when refusing to be drafted into the US forces to fight in Vietnam. Whilst Joe Frazier was an admirable champion in Ali’s absence, Ali had already without doubt become the fighter (never mind just the heavyweight) of the decade)

Honorable mentions – Joe Frazier & Sonny Liston

1970s – George Foreman

This is a choice that may surprise some thinking Ali should again get the nod, but I feel justified in making it based on who big George beat & the manner in which he did so. In the 70s, other than winning the world title in a massacre of (previously unbeaten at that point) Joe Frazier, he also annihilated Ken Norton, who gave both Ali & Larry Holmes hell, as well as going on to beat Frazier again, plus his titanic fight against a prime & very dangerous Ron Lyle.

His loss to Ali was more as a result of Ali’s strategic genius & courage rather than George’s fighting talents, which he possessed in abundance. Whilst Ali would go on to become champion & reign for a number of years throughout the decade it was his victories over both Foreman & Frazier (who Foreman defeated far more convincingly than Ali did – twice) that earned him his kudos.

Honorable mentions – Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Ken Norton & Larry Holmes

1980s – Larry Holmes

What? Not Mike Tyson?

I can already feel the rift of opinion amongst the readership…

Well – In all seriousness I have no qualms with this decision. As mentioned in the preamble of this piece, my choices are based on achievements in context and not on hype. I’m not saying Tyson was all hype-don’t get me wrong. The man in his prime was undeniably a ferocious & savage fighter, and whilst his brief prime lasted (which I’d argue was only really 1986-1988) I’d readily admit that it wouldn’t surprise me were he to beat any man in history put in front of him. But, and it’s a big but – As I’ve already said, I’m making my choices based on achievement & beaten opposition.

I’d argue that the only really great fighters Tyson beat in his prime was Michael Spinks, who he’d effectively beaten before the bell rang, and Larry Holmes himself, who was nearly 40 years old & coming out of a 2-year retirement. Other than that, Razor Ruddock & Pinklon Thomas were good, but what about the other names Tyson beat before his shock loss to Buster Douglas in 1990?

Holmes, on the other hand beat the following fighters in the 80s – Renaldo Snipes, Gerry Cooney (both undefeated at the time), Trevor Berbick (not the faded version Tyson went on to beat), Tim Witherspoon & Carl ‘The Truth’ Williams (again, both undefeated at the time) amongst others. Holmes still seems not to get the respect he deserves from boxing fans. The man had the best jab by any fighter – bar none, was world champion from 1978-1985 & definitely deserves the nod for the heavyweight of the 80s in my humble opinion.

Honorable mention – Mike Tyson

1990s – Evander Holyfield

I actually find the top heavy of the 90s harder to judge than the 80s, as there are more who can justifiably stake a claim. The main contenders for me are Holyfield, Bowe & Lewis. I’ve eliminated Bowe on the grounds that like Tyson, his prime was so short. After his breathtaking trilogy with Holyfield Bowe was already a spent force, as was demonstrated by his two sickening ‘victories’ over Andrew Golota. Lewis you’ll hear more about shortly – I felt great though he was in the 90s, the older & more mature Lewis was overall a greater fighter.

Evander Holyfield achieved an unbelievable amount in the 90s. Always a small heavyweight in stature but massive in heart & courage, Holyfield cleaned up the Cruiserweight division in the late 1980s & is still recognized by many as being the best fighter Cruiserweight has ever seen. In 1990 Holyfield beat James ‘Buster’ Douglas (albeit an overweight & unmotivated Douglas which given his great victory over Tyson leaves us wondering what could have been) to win the heavyweight title.

Defenses against old champions Larry Holmes & George Foreman followed plus a victory over ‘Smokin’ Bert Cooper, who gave Holyfield a good scare. This led the public to believe that Holyfield was beating up on old men & crack addicts – Until the trilogy with Bowe set the records straight, with both of the fighter’s reputations gaining as a result. With two losses to Bowe & another to Michael Moorer in the midst of the Bowe fights people thought the comebacking Tyson would steamroll over Evander. History, of course, tells a different story.

Holyfield broke the Tyson myth (allowing Lennox Lewis to finally vanquish it once & for all in 2002) by breaking his heart & spirit in a great battle and became a legend in doing so. He repeated the feat a year later in the infamous ear-biting incident.

Having already achieved so much in the 90s however, Holyfield simply didn’t know when to quit-His fighting heart & incredible self-belief working against him.

Honorable mentions – Lennox Lewis & Riddick Bowe

2000s (2000-2010 so far) – Lennox Lewis

Some may think Wladimir Klitschko should win out this one. Perhaps if he goes on to unify the titles before 2010 I’ll agree, but at the rate he’s been going, there’s no one else other than Lennox Lewis who deserves this one more.

Lewis became champion during the 1990s & beat several very good fighters during that time – Andrew Golota, Razor Ruddock, Tommy Morrison, Shannon Briggs & Evander Holyfield (official scoring of a draw in their first encounter notwithstanding) but in the early ‘00s, Lewis was untouchable, bar a lucky punch defeat to Hasim Rahman when he got complacent. A defeat Lewis would go on to avenge in devastating fashion.

The opponents he beat – Namely Michael Grant, Frans Botha, David Tua, Mike Tyson (admittedly a faded version) & Vitali Klitschko were far more high-standard than Klitschko jr. has achieved in his wake.

Boxing fans rightly recognize Lewis as the last great dominant champion to date – That just about says it all.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Article posted on 13.09.2008

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