Britain's Heavyweight Heroes
Sunday 14 November 1999
BOB FITZSIMMONS (Undisputed champion, 1897-1899):
BOB FITZSIMMONS (Undisputed champion, 1897-1899):
Fitzsimmons, who was born in Cornwall but moved to New Zealand as a small boy, was the world's first triple world champion. Having won the middleweight crown in 1891 by knocking out Jack Dempsey (unrelated to the future heavyweight champion) in round 13, he moved up to heavyweight to challenge champion James Corbett in March 1897. Fitzsimmons, by then 34, stopped Corbett in round 14 with a sickening body punch to win the title. He was knocked out in the 11th round of his first defence against James Jefferies in June 1899. Fitzsimmons continued boxing and won the light-heavyweight title by beating George Gardner after 20 rounds in 1903. After five more fights, he retired and became an evangelist.
MICHAEL BENTT (WBO champion, 1993-1994):
Bentt was a rather spurious British world heavyweight title claimant, born in London but spending his whole life in New York. He won the title in sensational fashion, dethroning highly-rated WBO champion Tommy Morrison in just 93 seconds in November 1993. Bentt lost the title in his first defence, when he was beaten by fellow Briton Herbie Hide at Millwall football ground in March 1994. He was taken to hospital with a concussive brain injury after the fight, and never boxed again.
HERBIE HIDE (WBO champion, 1994-1995, 1997-1999):
Hide's emphatic seventh round demolition of Bentt at the age of just 22 suggested the Norwich man was in line for a golden heavyweight future. But was too ambitious for his own good, opting to take on Riddick Bowe in America in his first defence in March 1995. Hide was flattened eight times on his way to a sixth round defeat. Hide regained the vacant title in style two years later by crushing blubbery American Tony Tucker in two rounds in his home town. After two successful defences against little-known Damon Reed and Willi Fischer, Hide - blighted by personal problems outside the ring - took on giant Ukrainian Vitali Klitschko in London in June this year, and was blitzed in just two rounds. His future remains uncertain.
FRANK BRUNO (WBC champion, 1995-1996):
Britain's first true heavyweight hero, Wandsworth-born 'Big Frank' made the front pages of all Britain's newspapers and delighted the nation when he won a world title at the fourth time of asking by beating Oliver McCall at Wembley Stadium in September 1995. Top amateur Bruno was tipped for the top after turning professional in 1982, but suffered his first defeat in his first world title bid, stopped in the 11th round of a WBA tilt by Tim Witherspoon at Wembley. A big puncher but suspect when put under pressure, Bruno landed a shot at Mike Tyson for the undisputed title in February 1989. After a brave performance in which he briefly wobbled the supposedly invincible champion, Bruno was stopped in round five. With Bruno now a national hero, a match with Lennox Lewis when he became WBC champion was a natural. It took place on a wet Cardiff night in October 1993 but Bruno was beaten for the third time in a world title contest, stopped on his feet in round seven. Boxing politics enabled huge ticket seller Bruno to get a fourth world crack against McCall, who had subsequently beaten Lewis. Bruno ground out a points win in front of over 30,000 ecstatic fans, and set up a second meeting with Tyson, who was then on the comeback trail, in March 1996. But he crumbled in round three and never fought again.
HENRY AKINWANDE (WBO champion, 1996-1997):
The 6ft 7ins Akinwande - born in Dulwich but raised in Nigeria - became the tallest ever heavyweight champion when he stopped American Jeremy Williams in round three in California to win the WBO crown in June 1996. An effective but mechanical fighter, Akinwande was successful on points in two drab defences, against Russian Alexander Zolkin and fellow Briton Scott Welch. Akinwande vacated the WBO belt to challenge Lennox Lewis for his WBC title in Lake Tahoe in July 1997. Plainly intimidated, he was disqualified in round five for persistent holding. Amazingly Akinwande, who has long since turned his back on Britain to set up base in Florida, is the WBA's number one contender and heads the list of mandatory obligations inherited by new unified champion Lewis.
LENNOX LEWIS (WBC champion, 1992-1994, 1997-1999. WBC, WBA, IBF champion 1999-)
The man who will start the new Millennium as the undisputed king had the most inauspicious of starts to his career as a world heavyweight champion. Lewis, the reigning British and Commonwealth champion, was handed the WBC belt without stepping into a ring after champion Riddick Bowe famously dropped it in a bin rather than make a mandatory defence against the Briton. Lewis' critics had a field day, and they already had plenty of ammunition. They scoffed at Lewis' claims to be the first British champion this century. Lewis was born in London in 1965 but had won a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul while representing Canada, where he had been taken to live at the age of nine. Lewis successfully defended his title three times - on points against Tony Tucker, in round seven against Frank Bruno, and in round eight against Phil Jackson. But his world was shattered in September 1994, when he was knocked out in round two by unknown Oliver McCall at Wembley. Steadfastly refusing to side with American promoter Don King, Lewis was frozen out of the championship picture for three years until the WBC matched him with McCall again in February 1997. Lewis claimed the title in extraordinary fashion for the second time, when McCall burst into tears and refused to fight, the bout stopped in round five. In Lewis' first defence in July, Henry Akinwande was disqualified in the same round for persistent holding. Lewis finally made his mark in October of the same year, when he blitzed the much-fancied Pole Andrew Golota in the second round in Atlantic City. He stopped Shannon Briggs in the fifth round of a war in March 1998, then laboured to a points win over Croat Zeljko Mavrovic six months later as he waited for his first undisputed title clash with Evander Holyfield. The controversy which has dogged Lewis' career struck again in New York in March when, after appearing to have clinched victory on points, he was denied by a majority draw verdict. Lewis made no mistake second time around.
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