I’m in a heavyweight state of mind.
And given the recent deluge of big men carrying gaudy belts, it’s no coincidence.
WBC kingpin Deontay Wilder vaporizes Luis Ortiz with a single right-hand shot one weekend, then Anthony Joshua regains his position as “governor” of the division – according to Eddie Hearn, at least – with a workmanlike 12-round clinic against a too fat, too happy Andy Ruiz that regained him the cadre of belts (IBF/IBO/WBA/WBO) the Snickers-toting Californian had snatched away last June.
Until they actually fight each other – or at least both measure themselves against a common world-class benchmark, like Tyson Fury – it’ll be impossible to convincingly say which man is better.
This being boxing, of course, don’t expect that obstacle to stop anyone from trying to do it anyway.
Certainly not me.
So in that spirit of championship-level conjecture – and given the fact I’m about to enter my seventh decade on the planet – I decided to look back at the men who’ve taken turns as the world’s consensus No. 1 heavyweight since I drew my first chilly breaths back in the final few weeks of winter 1969.
Let the alternative facts begin…
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1. Larry Holmes – The most underappreciated champion in the division’s history, regardless of generation. He’d not have beaten a prime Muhammad Ali from the 1960s, but compared only with the versions of “The Greatest” from 1969 and beyond, there’s no one who matched Larry’s completeness.
2. Lennox Lewis – Might have lost to Riddick Bowe on both men’s best professional nights, but otherwise did a clean-up job on the division that Rock Newman’s mercurial charge was unable to fashion. A big man’s heart and wonderful technique far outlasted an occasionally balky chin.
3. Muhammad Ali – Fought them all. Beat them all. Sometimes a showman. Sometimes a shadow. But always a brave and tough warrior who possessed far more mettle than his persona might have indicated. He relied on that in the 1970s, but had the best prime of any heavyweight who ever lived.
4. Wladimir Klitschko – A mammoth big man who could box and punch and did so regularly while compiling a lengthier title run than any man not named Louis or Holmes. It wasn’t the golden age of heavyweights by any stretch, but he did what he was supposed to do against nearly every foe.
5. Riddick Bowe – If Ali is the greatest of all time and Holmes the most underappreciated, then Bowe comes in as the most enigmatic. His post-Holyfield body of work is a pock mark, but the version of the “Big Daddy” who fought from November 1992 to May 1993 is as good as there’s been.
6. George Foreman – On the winning and losing ends of two of the division’s most dramatic moments – losing to Ali in Zaire and decking the overconfident Michael Moorer 20 years later in Las Vegas. Jim Lampley’s call of the latter stunner is as good as it gets.
7. Evander Holyfield – Got more out of a smallish physique than anyone outside of Atlanta ever predicted and dominated a still-dangerous Mike Tyson long after most figured his best days had passed. Still went on for another decade past vintage, including a screw-job against circus act Nikolay Valuev.
8a. Deontay Wilder – Is he a fundamental work of art? Absolutely not. But what he possesses – length, speed and simply obnoxious power – would provide a difficult test for anything less than the upper tier of the past 50 years. As he said, they’d have to be perfect for 12 rounds, he’d need only two seconds.
8b. Tyson Fury – Whereas Wilder’s body of work is a bit longer and more highlight worthy, Fury gets this position based on two nights’ effort. His herky-jerky torment of Klitschko was a masterpiece, but he loses points for not following it up. That said, he gave Wilder all he wanted, too, and should do so again.
10. Mike Tyson – As menacing and violent as there’s ever been while intimidating a laundry list of foes into early defeat. Still, he took advantage of a so-so division in his prime and was no better than an also-ran against fellow elites like Holyfield and Lewis. Elite champs overcome distractions. He never did.
11. Anthony Joshua – I’ll admit it, I thought AJ was destined to be the boss of the current three-headed monster atop the division. But the Ruiz loss scared me, and the rematch win – while tactically sound and necessary – hasn’t convinced me he’ll stand up to a Wilder or Fury down the line. Need more proof.
12. Joe Frazier – A solid pro, sure, but probably the most historically overrated high-end heavy. Was a perfect foil for Ali, but did wind up 1-4 with three KO losses against his two best foes, with a whole lot of cannon fodder elsewhere. Don’t agree? Tell me then, beyond Ali, who did he beat that no one else did?
13. Vitali Klitschko – A big man who made as remarkable a comeback from four years off as there’s ever been outside of Ali. That said, he would likely be out-gunned by the best fighters close to his own size and out-slicked by the quickest and most powerful smaller ones.
14. Buster Douglas – For 10 rounds on one night in Japan was among the best heavyweights of all time, but never replicated the effort in any subsequent fights. Too lazy and too fat against Holyfield, stupidly costing himself even more money than he raked in. Ah, what could have been.
15. Michael Moorer – A frightening 175-pounder who was inspired to one great heavyweight moment with Teddy Atlas calling the shots against Holyfield. The loss to Foreman, though, curtailed what might have been an interesting mid-90s run. He and Tyson would have been a fun watch.
16. Michael Spinks – The most successful prototype for modern light heavyweights wanting to move up for a shot at bigger paychecks, using guile to topple an old Holmes and talent to handle an overmatched Cooney. Loss to Tyson, however, showed he didn’t truly belong with the division’s best.
17. Hasim Rahman – A one-hit wonder who inspired Foreman to celebratory song in South Africa, but was brought back to reality by a rededicated Lewis after his “Ocean’s Eleven” star turn was complete. A solid second-tier heavyweight with name value even 10 years later. But not a memorable champ.
18. Leon Spinks – Became a late-70s sensation with one stunning night in Las Vegas, then gave it all back seven months later in what should have been Ali’s goodbye. Forty-plus years later, though, he remains the undisputed champion of toothless grins.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF lightweight title – New York, New York
Richard Commey (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Teofimo Lopez (No. 1 IBF/No. 7 IWBR)
Commey (29-2, 26 KO): Second title defense; Four straight wins by KO/TKO (18 total rounds)
Lopez (14-0, 11 KO): First title fight; One fight past seven rounds (Average: 4.14 rounds)
Fitzbitz says: Commey’s up against it here by facing a Top Rank fighter on a Top Rank card. But he’s also an experienced, difficult guy who’s gotten better as champion. Hunch bet. Commey by decision (70/30)
WBO welterweight title – New York, New York
Terence Crawford (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Egidijus Kavaliauskas (No. 1 WBO/No. 14 IWBR)
Crawford (35-0, 26 KO): Third title defense; Six straight wins by KO/TKO (48 total rounds)
Kavaliauskas (21-0-1, 17 KO): First title fight; First fight scheduled beyond 10 rounds
Fitzbitz says: Crawford is a huge favorite – and deservedly so – against most fighters. And it’s even more deserved here. If a draw with Ray Robinson is your last result, avoid “Bud.” Crawford in 7 (100/0)
IBO super flyweight title – East London, South Africa
Gideon Buthelezi (champion/No. 19 IWBR) vs. Alexandru Marin (Unranked IBO/No. 21 IWBR)
Buthelezi (22-5, 5 KO): Sixth title defense; Former IBO champion at 105 and 108 pounds
Marin (18-0, 11 KO): First title fight; First fight scheduled beyond 10 rounds
Fitzbitz says: The South African is a longtime IBO stalwart and he’s fighting in familiar territory, which helps. But the challenger is young and strong, and it seems like his time has arrived. Marin in 9 (55/45)
Vacant IBO minimumweight title – East London, South Africa
Joey Canoy (No. 35 IBO/No. 13 IWBR) vs. Nkosinathi Joyi (Unranked IBO/Unranked IWBR)
Canoy (15-3-1, 8 KO): Third title fight (0-1, 1 NC); Never won a fight outside the Philippines (0-1, 1 NC)
Joyi (28-5-1, 19 KO): Thirteenth title fight (6-5, 1 NC); Held IBF and IBF titles at 105 pounds
Fitzbitz says: There was a time when Joyi, now 36, was a legit title-level commodity. That time has passed. Canoy is no killer, but he’s closer to his ceiling that Joyi is to his own. Canoy by decision (65/35)
Last week's picks: 4-0 (WIN: Joshua, Ancajas, Charlo, Navarrete)
2019 picks record: 97-20 (82.9 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,108-363 (75.3 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.