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The four world heavyweight champions who got to 40-0, and what happened to them afterwards

If he wins tomorrow night, against the dangerous Luis Ortiz, reigning and defending WBC heavyweight king Deontay Wilder will, as fans know, reach 40-0 as a pro. As impressive as these numbers are – for any pro fighter – many critics say Wilder has a largely manufactured record, and that he has faced bums, has-beens and stiffs in compiling it.

Yet a look at heavyweight history shows us how there have been just four previous world champions* (as in the holder of a recognised belt: WBC, WBA or IBF) who managed to get to 40 fights without suffering a single defeat. And some truly great heavyweights failed to do it – all-timers like Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Lennox Lewis to name just a few.

Here they are:


Rocky Marciano, who as we know got to 49-0 before retiring, forever surrounded by the achievement of ring perfection; later immortality.

George Foreman.

Larry Holmes.

Nikolai Valuev.

Marciano as we know quit after bludgeoning crafty, game and clever light-heavyweight king Archie Moore, but what happened to Foreman and Holmes after they reached 40-0?

Foreman lost on the biggest possible stage, being upstaged by the great Muhammad Ali (who actually got to 31-0 before suffering a defeat) in the heart of the African jungle in what is arguably the most celebrated heavyweight title fight in history. Had Foreman avoided running into Ali, who knows, he may have beaten Marciano’s cherished 49-0.

Holmes, who made it to 40-0 with his epic win over Gerry Cooney, came oh, so close to tying “The Rock’s” record. Instead, in going up against Michael Spinks, Larry fell to 48-1 via big upset 15-round decision loss.

Russian colossus Valuev made it to 46-0, before he was himself upset via close decision, a majority verdict against a spirited Ruslan Chagaev.

And that’s it: aside from Wilder, who is right now 39-0, no other reigning world heavyweight champ has ever got close to 40-0. What will happen to Wilder if he does reach these numbers tomorrow? Wilder says he can “easily get to 50-0,” and maybe he will do so. But as Foreman and Holmes – who were both seemingly on their way to reaching 49-0, 50-0, or even 51-0 – found out, it’s tougher than it looks.

Bottom line though, Wilder deserves respect if he can make it to 40-0 against Ortiz. ‘Manufactured’ record or not.