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Heavyweight Title Has Truly Gone Global Over The Years

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For most of its existence, the world heavyweight title seldom strayed beyond the borders of the United States, yet when Andy Ruiz Jr defends WBA, WBO, IBO and IBF heavyweight titles against Anthony Joshua is Diriyah next week, Saudi Arabia will become the 24th country to stage a world heavyweight title fight.

It is 127 years since James J Corbett beat John L Sullivan in New Orleans in the first world heavyweight title fight of the gloved era and it took nearly 100 years and the invention of satellite communication for the world title to be truly international. Now title fights have been held in Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. 

The first time the world heavyweight title was contested outside the US was in 1907, when Tommy Burns defended the title at the National Sporting Club in London against Gunner Moir.

Burns’s world tour then took him to Dublin (which was still technically part of the United Kingdom at the time), Paris and Australia, where he lost the belt in 1908 to Jack Johnson at the Sydney Stadium.

After returning home, it was Johnson’s legal difficulties that forced the title on the road again in 1913, when Johnson defended his belt in Paris again. He would also have a non-title fight in Argentina before losing the title to Jess Willard at the recently-opened (and now long gone) Oriental Park Racetrack in Havana, Cuba in 1915.

Max Schmeling won the title in 1931. The title was not contested off US soil again until 1933, when Primo Carnera made his first defence of the belt against Spain’s Paulino Uzcudun in front of a crowd of 70,000, including Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, at the Piazza di Siena, in the centre of Rome.

The first real splintering of the world title saw the next overseas fight for the world heavyweight title, as Lee Savold stopped Bruce Woodcock on cuts at White City Stadium (the 1908 Olympic Stadium) in 1950, although that version was only recognised by the British Boxing Board of Control.

The first world heavyweight title fight in Canada took place in 1961, when Floyd Patterson knocked down Tom McNeeley 11 times in four rounds at Maple Leafs Garden in Toronto.

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As in Johnson’s era, it was legal problems for the champion that forced the title on the road in the Sixties, this time after Muhammad Ali refused the draft for the Vietnam War in early 1966. He boxed in Canada and London before he face Karl Mildenberger in September 1966 in Frankfurt, then in West Germany, winning in a 12th round stoppage.

Two years later, after Ali was stripped of the title, Jimmy Ellis beat Patterson for the vacant WBA title in Stockholm, Sweden.

The title truly went global in the 1970s as technology made it easier to beam live pictures around the world.

So George Foreman took the title from Joe Frazier in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1973, before defending it against Jose Roman in Tokyo, Japan, and Ken Norton in Caracas, Venezuela, before losing it most famously to Ali in Kinshasa, capital of what was then called Zaire in 1974. Oddly, Foreman did not box for the world title in the US until facing Evander Holyfield in Atlantic City in 1991.

Ali was the sport’s first real globetrotting heavyweight, having had non-title fights in Dublin and Jakarta, Indonesia. Eight months after beating Foreman, he defended the title against Joe Bugner at the Merdeka Stadium, in Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia, before his famous war with Joe Frazier in Manila, Philippines. He also boxed Jean-Pierre Coopman, the Belgian, in Puerto Rico, as well as Richard Dunn in Munich.

While Larry Holmes, the WBC champion, never defended the title overseas, the WBA title at the time was more travelled, as John Tate beat Gerrie Coetzee for the vacant title in apartheid South Africa in 1979.

After Mike Weaver beat Tate for the title, he travelled to face Coetzee too, a fight that took place in Sun City, which claimed to be in the independent state of Bophuthatswana for the sake of avoiding sanctions, even though it was merely about 100 miles from the South African capital of Pretoria. Coetzee did eventually claim the WBA title from Michael Dokes in the US, but lost is back in Sun City to Greg Page.

The title did not reach another new nation until well into the 21st Century, when Oleg Maskaev beat Okello Peter, the Japan-based Ugandan, in Moscow in 2006 for the WBC belt, the title’s first trip into Russia. A year later, Nikolai Valuev retained his WBA title by beating Jameel McCline, who collapsed with a knee injury, in Basel, Switzerland.

In 2011, the title was twice contested in new countries, as Vitali Klitschko beat Tomasz Adamek in Wroclaw, Poland, three months before Alexander Povetkin successfully defended the WBA title against Cedric Boswell in Helsinki, Finland.

The final nation that the title reached before Saudi Arabia was New Zealand, where Joseph Parker beat Andy Ruiz for the vacant WBO title in 2016. Ruiz brings his belts to another new nation this month.

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User Comments and Feedback
Comment by buddyguns on 12-04-2019

[QUOTE=The D3vil;20230026]I love boxing as an international sport. There should be more of this. I'd love to see fights in places like Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, China, Phillippines, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, France, etc. . . And of course Mexico City,…

Comment by jbpanama on 12-04-2019

[QUOTE=Marchegiano;20228847]Lee Savold was the IBU champion as well. BBBoC/IBU champion. Good article though that makes a fair point all the same. Even if Bob predates Max by 30 years and Lee was recognized by two bodies.[/QUOTE] Hey Man... Did the…

Comment by jbpanama on 12-04-2019

[QUOTE=Mick Higgs;20229314]How could Lee Savold be BBBofC Champion? He was American!..[/QUOTE] Didn't Harry Kid Matthews put a whippin on Lee...?

Comment by Mick Higgs on 12-04-2019

[QUOTE=Marchegiano;20229495]They used to sanction world champions.[/QUOTE] The board have always been a bit odd in there affiliations, back in the 70's they didn't recognize the WBA which caused problems for both (at the time undisputed champions) Ken Buchanan & John…

Comment by The D3vil on 12-04-2019

I love boxing as an international sport. There should be more of this. I'd love to see fights in places like Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, China, Phillippines, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, France, etc. . . And of course Mexico City, which…

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