News June 2013

Giants of the ring; the ten tallest heavyweight champions in history: Part Two


By Michael J Jones

Here Livefight concludes the top ten tallest heavyweight champions of all time-

5. Wladimir Klitschko. Height 6ft 6ins

The current world number one and unified champion, Wladimir is also one of the tallest heavyweight champions in history. Alongside older brother Vitali, the younger sibling has dominated the division since the departure of Lennox Lewis in the mid 2000’s.

Although he can appear stiff and mechanical at times, the Ukrainian has improved with age and is unbeaten since 2005. A very heavy-handed fighter who turns up for every fight in superb shape, Wladimir has dominated all in his path since a pair of stoppage defeats to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster in 03’ and 05’ respectively.

The younger Klitschko won super-heavyweight gold in the 96’ Atlanta Olympics before turning pro soon after alongside older (by four-and-a-half years) brother Vitali.

Wladimir would reign as WBO heavyweight champion from 2000 to 2003 until the Sanders shocker. The South African southpaw was 38-years-old and had been horribly inactive before crushing the far-younger champion in just two rounds.

Similarly to Lewis, Klitschko began working with Manny Steward after being knocked out and flourished under his Kronk gym tutelage. After falling apart against Brewster in five rounds in another upset, many (including his own brother Vitali) called for the fragile-looking Ukrainian to retire but he kept going and became champion again in 2006 by beating IBF holder Chris Byrd in seven one-sided rounds. Klitschko had also beaten Byrd to win the WBO belt six years earlier.

Klitschko picked up the WBO belt again with a land-slide decision over the smaller Sultan Ibragimov in 2008 and in 2011 added the WBA crown by trouncing David Haye in another unification bout.

Now 37-years-old, it doesn’t appear Wladimir will be beaten any time soon as his measured approach continues to dismantle respectable contenders.

Dempsey crushes big Jess

4. Jess Willard. Height 6ft 6½ins

In 1915, white America had grown tired of the swaggering and confident Jack Johnson and the whole nation appeared set to find a ‘Great White Hope’ to rip the crown away from the ‘Negro’.

While many men, including former champion James J Jeffries tried and failed to make any impression on the defensive genius of the “Galveston Giant”, up stepped the hulking figure of Willard.

After fighting a series of bouts against other leading contenders of the day, big Jess was awarded his shot at Johnson in Havana on April 5th, 1915. The bout was set for forty rounds as insiders knew the great champion would struggle to last that long at the advanced age of 37-years-old.

Despite many insisting to this very day the fight was a set-up, the “Pottawatomie Giant” eventually prevailed by way of 26-round knock out in the blazing Cuban heat. A big right hammered into tiring Jack’s chin as he was sent spinning to the canvas where he was counted out by ref’ Jack Welch.

Willard would be heavyweight champion for four years; chiefly because he only defended the title once via newspaper decision over the ordinary Frank Moran.

After beating a legend to claim the crown, big Jess would face another for his second, and last, defence. Jack Dempsey, the violent wrecking-ball of a man, would give Willard one of the worst beatings in boxing history. Willard’s considerable size advantage counted for nothing in the short-lived bout in which the champion was dropped seven times in the opening round before getting pulled out after three brutal sessions.

Willard, who suffered a broken jaw, fractured cheek and several broken ribs amongst his many injuries, would claim until his death that the “Manassa Mauler’s” fists were loaded for the savage three-round mauling.

After losing his heavyweight title, Willard didn’t fight again for four long years. A comeback was scuppered when Luis Angel Firpo (who would famously go on to knock Dempsey out of the ring), stopped Jess in eight painful rounds. Willard retired soon after and will always be remembered for ending the reign of Johnson while starting Dempsey’s.

He died in 1968 at the ripe old age of 86.

3. Henry Akinwande. Height 6ft 7ins

Although a holder of the less-regarded WBO title, Akinwande was one of the most impressive physical specimens in recent years. A little like Carnera though, Akinwande’s physique belied his fighting attributes.

Owner of the largest reach of any heavyweight titlist in history with an incredible 86” wing-span, Akinwande had very decent skills and could hit sharply. The trouble appeared to be in the Londoner’s confidence as he seemed to wilt in his sternest tests. As soon as Akinwande was forced on the retreat he’d wrap his Octopus-like arms around his opponent and make things mightily ugly.

After winning the vacant WBO belt in 96’ with a third-round knock-out of Jeremy Williams, Akinwande vacated to take on WBC champion Lennox Lewis the following year.

Although he had already beaten decent contenders like Axel Schulz, Tony Tucker and Williams, Henry was no match for the aggressive Lewis who put him straight on the back-foot and broke his heart.

Despite appearing to drop the favourite with a right in the third, Akinwande held on for dear life until referee Mills Lane threw him out in the fifth. It was the second controversial bout in a row for Lewis who was coming off the farcical McCall rematch (when the “Atomic Bull” suffered a break-down in the ring).

Following his defeat by Lewis, Akinwande scored a few decent wins but never contested a world title again and retired in 2008 following losses to Oleg Platov and Ondrej Pala.

The Florida-based Londoner walked away with a still-impressive 50-4-1 (30) record, his other defeat a ten-round knock-out loss to Oliver McCall in 2001.

2. Vitali Klitschko. Height 6ft 7ins

Reigning WBC champion Vitali Klitschko is taller than younger brother Wladimir by an inch. Older by five years, Vitali is still in great form at nearly 42-years-old. Just a few months ago the champion easily dismissed the previously unbeaten Manuel Charr in four rounds in his latest title defence.

Thirteen years ago, Vitali had proved his punching power by pounding WBO champion Herbie Hide in two rounds to win his first world title. Unfortunately though, the new champion would lose that crown a year later via injury to slippery Chris Byrd.

Labelled a coward with no heart for retiring with a shoulder injury against Byrd, Vitali had something to prove when facing WBC champion Lennox Lewis three years later.

A late substitute for the injured Kirk Johnson, Vitali gave the performance of his life to hang tough with the aged Lewis.

After rocking Lewis throughout the first and second, Klitschko saw a points lead scuppered when pulled out with nasty cuts after the sixth. He lost the bout but restored and enhanced his reputation in the defeat.

As Lewis retired, Vitali was matched with his brother’s conqueror Corrie Sanders for the vacant WBC belt and avenged his sibling’s defeat in eight action-packed rounds.

The title reign would be brief however as the champion was forced to vacate after suffering multiple injuries whilst preparing for a defence versus former champion Hasin Rahman in 2005.

When the retired Ukrainian announced he would be returning to boxing four years later to take on new WBC champion Sam Peter, it was greeted with a mixed response as many questioned the decision. Despite the lay-off, Vitali returned better than ever to dominate Peter to become champion again.

In the subsequent five years, few have been able to even compete with the aging Klitschko as he continues to pick apart all-comers.

Like brother Wladimir, unless he retires it’s hard to see anyone beating the awkward-but-effective Vitali any time soon.

If one were to count Vitali’s combined ring record for his kick-boxing, amateur and pro boxing career his record currently stands at 273-18 (143). His current pro record is 45-2 (41) with both defeats coming via injury in bouts he was winning.

Hulk; Valuev uses his bulk vs Ruiz

1) Nicolai Valuev. Height 7ft 2ins

By some distance, the tallest heavyweight champion of all time is former two-time WBA Goliath Nicolai Valuev. The Russian was considered something of a freak-show early in his career but improved to show his mettle in bouts with world-ranked fighters such as John Ruiz, Jameel McCline and Monte Barrett.

The tallest heavyweight champion ever also holds other world records such as the heaviest champion in history (regularly weighing around 330lbs) and was also involved in the greatest combined weight for fighters in a heavyweight world title bout. Then-champion Valuev and American Jameel McCline scaled a colossal 590lbs for the contest in which the champion won in three rounds. The challenger was pulled out when injuring his knee to conclude the title match in Switzerland.

In November 1997, the “Beast from the East” flattened poor Alarim Uysal in two rounds in a bout which took place in Germany. While Nicolai weighed his heaviest career weight at 348¼lbs, Uysal scaled below the cruiserweight limit at 189½lbs meaning he was out-weighed by nearly 160lbs!

If we also discount the WBO title, Valuev and Primo Carnera also hold the record for longest reach at a shared 85”.

Valuev wasn’t a huge puncher despite 34 knock-outs in his 52 bouts but knew how to use his bulk to usually wear smaller men out. In his second defence of his first reign as WBA champion, Valuev knocked out respected American contender Monte Barrett in eleven rounds in Illinois. It was the greatest weight difference in a heavyweight title bout of all time with a whopping 105½lb difference on the scales.

The huge Russian edged out defending champion John Ruiz to first win the WBA crown and successfully defended on three occasions before losing a close decision to unbeaten challenger Ruslan Chagaev.

After Chagaev was forced to vacate after long-term injury, Valuev became a two-time champion by winning another close-one with old foe Ruiz. Later in the same year, the Saint Petersburg champion would win a controversial points verdict over the aged Evander Holyfield before losing his title in his last bout to David Haye.

The vastly smaller Haye boxed sensibly at range to win the contest by a decision some had a shut-out though officially it went down as a majority decision.

After a spell on the side-lines, Valuev sensibly retired with an excellent 50-2 (34) record with both his defeats via majority decision in world title bouts. Durable Valuev was also never off his feet in his entire career though appeared to be rocked in the last versus big-punching Haye.

But who was the tallest boxer ever?

In 1935, a young Romanian turned pro under the name Gogea Mitu. Mitu, real name George Stefanescu stood 7’4”, weighed around 320lbs and was found working in a fair by a local pro boxer who set about training the freakishly tall youth.

The boxer known as “Goliath of Romania” fought several exhibitions matches including one against former world champion Primo Carnera before making his pro bow in 1935.

Young giant Mitu

Sadly though, the 21-year-old heavyweight prospect had his promising career cut short after just three bouts.

After a short illness, Gogea tragically died of tuberculosis on June 22, 1936. He was a month shy of his 22nd birthday and was said to be still growing right up until his death due to his ‘Gigantism’ condition.

Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeUndisputed

Newsletters Signup