Category:Heavyweight Division

From Barry Hugman's History of World Championship Boxing
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Known as the richest prize in sport, the heavyweight division as we know it today has its roots in England, the history of modern pugilism taking us right back to the 1720s when James Figg, an expert with the sword and quarterstaff, opened his theatre on Oxford Road, London. Over the years Figg has become recognised as being the man who brought bare-fist fighting into the public domain. A little-known fact unearthed by Tony Gee in his excellent book Up to Scratch, records that Figg had been a scholar of the noted Timothy Buck in Clare Market and had risen to the position of ‘Master of the Noble Science of Defence’ by 1714 under his tutor.

It is Jack Broughton, however, who is generally credited with bringing the sport into prominence and, as its true founder, he is the man who should be seen retrospectively as being the first real champion of the bare-knuckle era, prior to laying down the prize ring’s first set of rules in 1743. Some of the big names who followed him included Jack Slack, Tom Johnson, Ben Bryan (Brain), Daniel Mendoza, Gentleman John Jackson, Jem Belcher, Hen Pearce, John Gully, Tom Cribb, Tom Spring, Jem Ward, James Deaf Burke, William Bendigo Thompson, Ben Caunt, William Perry, Tom Sayers and Jem Mace. Incidentally, it was only after Mace that I can find the term ‘heavy weight’ regularly in use, but by the 1870s it was prevalent on both sides of the Atlantic.

The first glove fight of 25 rounds or more took place at the Cambridge Hall, Newman Street, Westminster, London, England on 4 September 1877 between Jack Knifton and Tom Scrutton. Although The Sportsman and Sporting Life reported it to be for the English title it should not be seen as such, with Scrutton being an amateur and Knifton, a newcomer with just three three-round fights behind him. With both men totally out of condition, it was a farce right from the beginning, the referee calling it off in semi-darkness during the ninth round and refusing to give a decision. Almost two months later, Tom Allen, who had been claiming the English title without donning the gloves, took on Tompkin Gilbert in a defence of his claim. A year earlier, in 1876, Allen had lost his bare-knuckle title in America to fellow-Englishman, Joe Goss, after being disqualified in the 21st round

With bare knuckles becoming popularised in America by the mid-1800s, and maintained mainly by British-born fighters, it was left to John L. Sullivan, ‘The Boston Strong Boy’ from America, to bring the curtain down on championships under London Prize Ring Rules when defeating Jake Kilrain in 75 rounds on 8 July 1889.

At the start of gloved boxing it was pretty much accepted in Britain that men under 158/160lbs were middleweights while those above were heavyweights. However, because there were many men who boxed in catchweight contests above that weight who were too light for the heavyweight ranks prior to the light heavyweight division being introduced in 1899, I have set the heavyweight band at all weights above 166lbs

Prior to Jess Willard beating Jack Johnson on 5 April 1915, I have listed all English, 'Black' and 'White' title bouts regardless of the fact that there was a generally recognised line of succession following James J. Corbett's victory over Sullivan on 7 September 1892. This has been done in order to show a clear picture of how the weight class evolved at championship level.

Weight Band/Amendments

166lbs + (1877 to 18 August 1899)

170lbs + (On 29 August 1899, Joe Choynski beat Australian Jim Ryan on points to win the inaugural light heavyweight title, thus setting up a weight class for men between 160 and 170lbs)

175lbs + (Although the light heavyweight division had not really taken off, on 22 April 1903 a contest between Jack Root and Charles Kid McCoy further established the weight class, with the limit rising to 175lbs. Following the NSC formally introducing eight named weight divisions on 11 February 1909, with the light heavyweight division recognised in Britain for the first time - and shortly after in Europe – the minimum poundage became well and truly established)

190lbs + (On 8 December 1979, the new cruiserweight division got underway for men weighing between 175 and 190lbs, with a contest between Marvin Camel and Mate Parlov deciding the championship. With heavyweights getting bigger all the time, this was implemented to allow the lighter men among the weight class more of a chance against men of similar weight)

195lbs + (At their end of November Convention in 1981 the WBC increased the cruiserweight poundage to 195lbs)

190lbs + (In November 1988, the WBC dropped their cruiserweight limit from 195lbs to 190lbs, thus falling into line with the IBF and WBA)

200lbs + (Both the WBA and WBC increased the cruiserweight limit from 190lbs to 200lbs in early October 2003 in order to allow small heavyweights a better chance of winning a world title)

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