Documentary: A Timeline of the 1990s Heavyweight Division

Perhaps it is the greatest decade for heavyweights in boxing history. The 1990s was expected to be Mike Tyson’s stomping grounds, just as the mid to late 1980s had been. After emerging from the ruin of the Lost Generation, “Iron” Mike Tyson looked to be well on his way to dominating the heavyweight division until he so chose to step down. This would not be the case, not by a longshot.

This retrospective documentary aims to showcase the plethora of narratives that dominated the heavyweight landscape of the 90s. Mike Tyson’s gradual fall from grace and the spiraling of his life.

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Evander Holyfield’s quest to be the undisputed heavyweight champion while being overshadowed by Tyson. Lennox Lewis battling the shadows of both Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe while aiming for a career-defining matchup with the latter enroute to finally gaining respect as the best of his era. It was a turbulent time for the marquee division, seeing even the lineage be passed around to eight different warriors, this all beginning with the greatest upset in boxing history when Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson and ruined the Tyson/Holyfield superfight plans.

The three-belt era was rolling with the division benefitting from Mike Tyson’s unification of the title in 1988 with his lineage clinching win over Michael Spinks. Riddick Bowe would splinter the championship at the tail-end of 1992 when he refused to fight his mandatory Lennox Lewis, a decision that haunts Bowe and boxing history to this very day. During the title’s journey of becoming increasingly splintered, a fourth body (the World Boxing Organization or WBO) would rise in prominence, securing its place in legitimacy in the 2000s. Still, the path of the WBO title is covered in this retrospective, a path that saw Michael Moorer, Ray Mercer, and Tommy Morrison take a few steps. The modern four-belt era was just around the corner.

Evander Holyfield and Michael Moorer shared the distinction of rising from lower weight classes and securing at least a portion of the heavyweight title. They also shared a duo of exciting bouts, splitting wins.

Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield put on the best heavyweight trilogy since Ali/Frazier and came out of it as the best of friends (they still are today). Similar to Ali and Frazier, the first bout was a surprising explosion that proved character, the second bout was a decent follow up (Bowe/Holyfield 2 had the spectacle of the fan-man), and the third was the most brutal of their affairs.

Tyson and Holyfield would eventually meet for a duo of fights; the first was another decade defining upset and the other was perhaps the most well-known controversy in the history of the sport: the BITE fight.

Some unfinished business remained from the 1980s as fighters remained on the hunt for their moments of glory. “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon, Tony “TNT” Tucker, Pinklon Thomas, James “Quick” Tillis, and more continued on in waning roles, typically acting as stepping stones for rising contenders like Tommy “The Duke” Morrison, Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe, and Lennox “The Lion” Lewis.

Strangely enough, the decade not only saw remnants of the 1980s but also the 1970s continue to wage war. George Foreman returned from his self-imposed exile in 1977 as a new man with one goal: to regain the heavyweight championship of the world that he lost to Muhammad Ali in 1974. Larry Holmes returned as well, similarly seeking to regain the title that he lost at the hands of Michael “Jinx” Spinks in 1985. A minor narrative was reborn regarding these two old lions: will they ever fight to fulfill a 1970s dream fight? It never happened, but “BIG” George and the “Easton Assassin” (or “Big Jack” as he was referenced at the time) proved more than formidable almost 20 years after their best years, with Foreman in particular up-seating Jersey Joe Walcott with a historical landmark that he still holds to this day.

Significant fights are, again, covered in exclusive detail. They include, but are not limited to, “Tyson is Back!”, “The Battle of the Ages”, “Class of Champions”, “One for the Ages”, “Finally”, and “Unfinished Business: The Search for the Truth”.

Once again, amateur boxing gets its spotlight with a brief touch on the 1992 and 1996 olympic heavyweight and super heavyweight finals. Cuba continued its dominance on the stage, now represented by the apparent successor to Teófilo Stevenson: Félix Savón. Gathered around the gold medalist’s success were future prospects David Tua, Danell Nicholson, Larry Donald, Brian Nielsen, and Shannon Briggs. Like Stevenson, Savón would go on to win a third gold medal of his own (in 2000). Wladimir Klitschko put his family name on the map with super heavyweight gold in 1996 and would go on to become one of the most dominant champions in heavyweight history. Muhammad Ali makes a brief appearance at the 1996 games as its torch lighter, a sight that was simultaneously triumphant and heart-breaking to witness.

The lone Rocky movie of the decade, ROCKY V, gets a fair review in light of the reputation the film holds. Of course, it’s the “worst” of the Rocky franchise, but not at all a bad movie. Check out the workprint.

The warriors of yesteryear who went up to the big ring in the sky are given their flowers once more. These names include “Jersey Joe” Walcott, “The Old Mongoose” Archie Moore, and Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams. Rest in peace, champs.

A decade of missed opportunities, grueling upsets, and welcomed surprises; honestly, there’s far too much story to tell in an article. Enjoy the documentary, boxing family.

Written, narrated, and produced by TheCharlesJackson

-TheCharlesJackson (December 9, 2021)

1 thought on “Documentary: A Timeline of the 1990s Heavyweight Division”

  1. Most Heavyweights today, couldn’t beat Randall Tex Cobb. They certainly couldn’t hurt him, and he had to much machismo, he’d walk right thru them and make you fight every second of every round, smiling at you for 15 rounds if need be.

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