List of heavyweight boxing champions

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This is a chronological list of world heavyweight boxing champions since the introduction of the Marquess of Queensberry rules: Bare knuckle champions who fought under Jack Broughton's Rules or the London Prize Ring rules are not listed here

Championship recognition[edit]

1885–1910[edit]

Champions were recognized by public acclamation. A champion in that era was a fighter who had a notable win over another fighter and kept winning afterward. Retirements or disputed results could lead to a championship being split among several men for periods of time. With only minor exceptions, the heavyweight division remained free from dual title-holders until the 1960s.

1910–1961[edit]

Organizations that awarded world championships[edit]

1961–present[edit]

Organizations that awarded world championships[edit]

List of champions[edit]

Reign beganReign endedChampionRecognitionNationality
August 29, 1885September 7, 1892John L. SullivanUniversalUnited States American
Sullivan defeated Paddy Ryan in 1882 for the bare knuckle championship of America. With the lack of legitimate challengers from outside America Sullivan gradually gained recognition as champion of the world. On August 29, 1885, he outpointed Dominick McCaffrey in Chester Park, Cincinnati, in a bout described as being "to decide the Marquess of Queensberry glove contest for the championship of the world"
September 7, 1892March 17, 1897James J. CorbettUniversalUnited States American
James J. Corbett announced his retirement from boxing in 1895 and nominated his protégé Steve O'Donnell as his successor. Tradition demanded that O'Donnell win the world title in the ring so he was matched against the erratic Irish boxer Peter Maher. The bout took place at the Empire Athletic club, Maspeth, New York on 11 November 1895, Maher surprisingly defeated O'Donnell via first round knockout. The general public had little acceptance of the new champion and even Maher himself expressed a wish to fight Corbett for the "real" title. Maher defended his "world title" against the British-born Bob Fitzsimmons in Coahuila de Zaragoza, Mexico on February 21, 1896, and was himself the victim of a first round knockout. Fitzsimmons then fought another Irish fighter, Tom Sharkey of Dundalk on December 2, 1896, in San Francisco, the bout being billed for the heavyweight title. Sharkey was awarded victory by disqualification in round 8 by the referee, Wyatt Earp. Corbett announced his return to the ring late in 1896 and the claims of Maher, Fitzsimmons (until 1897) and Sharkey to be champion are usually ignored.
The champions of this version of the title were:
November 11, 1895 to February 21, 1896 Peter Maher Ireland Ireland
February 21, 1896 to December 2, 1896 Bob Fitzsimmons United Kingdom Great Britain
December 2, 1896 to 1897 Tom Sharkey Ireland Ireland.
March 17, 1897June 9, 1899Bob FitzsimmonsUniversalUnited Kingdom British
Fitzsimmons became an American citizen in 1898.
June 9, 1899May 13, 19051James J. JeffriesUniversalUnited States American
Jeffries was the first modern champion to relinquish the title, announcing his retirement and declaring that the winner of a match between Marvin Hart and Jack Root would be the next legitimate champion. Jeffries would return to the ring to face Jack Johnson.
July 3, 1905February 23, 1906Marvin HartUniversalUnited States American
February 23, 1906December 26, 1908Tommy BurnsUniversalCanada Canadian
December 26, 1908April 5, 1915Jack JohnsonUniversalUnited States American
Jack Johnson's refusal to honor an agreement made by his manager to defend against the British champion led the National Sporting Club in London, the most powerful body in boxing outside the USA, to withdraw recognition of Johnson as champion. They matched Canadian Sam Langford and the British champion William "Iron" Hague for their version of the title. Langford beat Hague on a fourth round knockout in London on May 24, 1909. Langford returned home to America and never pressed his claim to the title.
April 5, 1915July 4, 1919Jess WillardUniversalUnited States American
July 4, 1919September 23, 1926Jack DempseyUniversalUnited States American
September 23, 1926July 31, 19282Gene TunneyUniversalUnited States American
Tunney announced his retirement from professional boxing on July 31, 1928, relinquishing the championship.
June 12, 1930January 7, 1931Max SchmelingUniversalGermany German
Schmeling defeated Jack Sharkey to earn universal recognition as champion but was stripped of the NYSAC version of the title in 1931 for refusing a rematch with Sharkey. The NYSAC title remained vacant until the two men eventually did fight in 1932.
January 7, 1931June 21, 1932Max SchmelingNBA & IBUGermany German
June 21, 1932June 29, 1933Jack SharkeyUniversalUnited States American
June 29, 1933June 14, 1934Primo CarneraUniversalItaly Italian
June 14, 1934June 13, 1935Max BaerUniversalUnited States American
In late 1934 the International Boxing Union ordered world champion Max Baer to defend his title against the reigning European champion, Pierre Charles of Belgium. When Baer instead opted to fight James J. Braddock they withdrew recognition of him as champion. The IBU matched Charles with the American heavyweight George Godfrey for their version of the title with the fight taking place in Brussels, Belgium on 2 October 1935. Godfrey won a fifteen round points decision but did not press any claim to the championship and was inactive for the next two years. The IBU then recognized Baer's successor, James J. Braddock, as champion.
June 13, 1935June 22, 1937James J. BraddockUniversalUnited States American
June 22, 1937March 1, 19492Joe LouisUniversalUnited States American
As of 2013, Louis still holds the record for holding the title longer than any man (11 years, 8 months and 8 days.)
June 22, 1949September 27, 1950Ezzard CharlesNBAUnited States American
Charles won the vacant National Boxing Association championship in June 1949, but was not universally recognized as champion until June 1951.
June 6, 1950June 16, 1951Lee SavoldEBUUnited States American
On the retirement of Joe Louis in March 1949, the European Boxing Union announced that a fight in May 1949 between Lee Savold of the USA and British champion Bruce Woodcock would determine their version of the world heavyweight title. The NYSAC and the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC) also decided to recognize the winner of the fight as their champion but it was postponed for over a year due to injuries Woodcock had suffered in a car crash. The NYSAC decided instead to recognize the winner of the upcoming bout in September 1950 between Ezzard Charles and Joe Louis as their champion. Louis was returning to the ring after an absence of 27 months. When the fight for the EBU and BBBofC world heavyweight titles eventually took place in June 1950, Savold defeated Woodcock in four rounds.
September 27, 1950June 16, 1951Ezzard CharlesNBA & NYSACUnited States American
June 16, 1951July 18, 1951Ezzard CharlesUniversalUnited States American
Following his defeat to Joe Louis in a non-title fight in June 1951, Lee Savold was no longer recognized as the world heavyweight champion by the EBU and the BBBofC, who both immediately transferred their recognition to Ezzard Charles. Charles therefore became universally recognized as world heavyweight champion.
July 18, 1951September 23, 1952Jersey Joe WalcottUniversalUnited States American
September 23, 1952April 27, 19562Rocky MarcianoUniversalUnited States American
Marciano announced his retirement from professional boxing, relinquishing the championship.
November 30, 1956June 26, 1959Floyd PattersonUniversalUnited States American
Patterson, Tommy Jackson and reigning Light Heavyweight champion Archie Moore were matched in a three-man event to fill the title vacated by Rocky Marciano. Patterson defeated Jackson by controversial split decision on June 8, 1956, then defeated Moore to win the vacant title. After defeating Moore, Patterson would fight Jackson a second time so as to settle any perceived disputes about his legitimacy as champion, winning by TKO on July 29, 1957.
June 26, 1959June 20, 1960Ingemar JohanssonUniversalSweden Swedish
June 20, 1960September 25, 1962Floyd PattersonUniversalUnited States American
September 25, 1962February 25, 1964Sonny ListonUniversalUnited States American
February 25, 1964June 19, 1964Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay)UniversalUnited States American
The WBA and the NYSAC withdrew their recognition of Clay (now known as Muhammad Ali) as champion for agreeing to an immediate rematch against former champion Sonny Liston, a violation of the organization's rules at the time. The WBC and other organizations continued to recognize him. (See Ali versus Liston.)
June 19, 1964February 6, 1967Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay)WBCUnited States American
March 5, 1965February 6, 1967Ernie TerrellWBA & NYSACUnited States American
Terrell defeated Eddie Machen to win the vacant WBA championship. He would defend the title twice before losing to Muhammad Ali.
February 6, 1967April 29, 1967Muhammad AliUniversalUnited States American
The WBA, WBC, the NYSAC and several other US state boxing commissions withdrew recognition of Ali as champion for his refusal to be inducted into the United States Army subsequent to being drafted in early 1967.
March 4, 1968February 16, 1970Joe FrazierNYSACUnited States American
Frazier defeated Buster Mathis in a bout recognized by the athletic commissions of Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania as for the "world" championship title. Similar 'world championship' recognition would be bestowed upon him by the athletic commission of Texas after a victory over Dave Zyglewicz on April 22, 1969.
April 27, 1968February 16, 1970Jimmy EllisWBAUnited States American
Ellis was the champion of an eight-man championship tournament sponsored under the auspices of the WBA to fill the vacant title. Participants included Ellis, Leotis Martin, Jerry Quarry, Oscar Bonavena, Karl Mildenberger, Thad Spencer, former WBA champion Ernie Terrell and former undisputed champion Floyd Patterson. Joe Frazier was offered the opportunity to participate, but declined the invitation.
February 16, 1970January 22, 1973Joe FrazierUniversalUnited States American
Frazier and WBA champion Jimmy Ellis fought on February 16, 1970 to unify the Heavyweight championship. Frazier entered the ring recognized as the 'world champion' by several American state boxing commissions, Ellis entered as the champion recognized by the World Boxing Association, and the World Boxing Council, whose title had remained vacant following its withdrawal of recognition from Muhammad Ali, awarded championship recognition to the winner, Frazier. Frazier ultimately would defeat Ali on March 8, 1971 to assert unquestioned claim to the title. (see Fight of the Century)
January 22, 1973October 30, 1974George ForemanUniversalUnited States American
October 30, 1974February 15, 1978Muhammad AliUniversalUnited States American
February 15, 1978March 18, 19783Leon SpinksUniversalUnited States American
March 18, 1978September 15, 19783Leon SpinksWBAUnited States American
For the first time, a sanctioning organization withdrew its recognition of a champion based on his refusal to box against its designated 'mandatory challenger,' Ken Norton. Spinks had instead agreed to a return match against Muhammad Ali.
March 18, 1978June 9, 1978Ken NortonWBCUnited States American
In an unprecedented move in the Heavyweight division, Norton was immediately recognized as the WBC's champion when Leon Spinks signed a contract to fight former champion Muhammad Ali. At the time, Norton had been designated the WBC's 'mandatory challenger' based on a victory over Jimmy Young. Upon being named champion Norton was required to defend the title against the organization's new mandatory challenger, Larry Holmes. Norton would lose that bout, and the title.
June 9, 1978December 11, 19831Larry HolmesWBCUnited States American
Holmes relinquished his WBC title to assume the championship of the International Boxing Federation, a newly formed organization which had splintered off from the WBA.
September 15, 1978April 27, 19791Muhammad AliWBAUnited States American
Believing his career over, Ali relinquished his WBA title in exchange for a payment from promoter Don King, who was trying to stage a bout between then-WBC champ Larry Holmes and John Tate for the undisputed title. The bout never materialized, but Ali would return to the ring in 1980 and lose to Holmes.
October 20, 1979March 31, 1980John TateWBAUnited States American
March 31, 1980December 10, 1982Mike WeaverWBAUnited States American
December 10, 1982September 23, 1983Michael DokesWBAUnited States American
September 23, 1983December 1, 1984Gerrie CoetzeeWBASouth Africa South African
December 11, 1983September 21, 1985Larry HolmesIBFUnited States American
March 9, 1984August 31, 1984Tim WitherspoonWBCUnited States American
August 31, 1984March 22, 1986Pinklon ThomasWBCUnited States American
December 1, 1984April 29, 1985Greg PageWBAUnited States American
April 29, 1985January 17, 1986Tony TubbsWBAUnited States American
September 21, 1985February 19, 19873Michael SpinksIBFUnited States American
Spinks recognition as IBF champion was withdrawn when he signed to fight popular Heavyweight Gerry Cooney rather than the organization's #1 contender, Tony Tucker. He would retain wide recognition as 'the' champion in the division (including Ring Magazine recognition until his loss to Mike Tyson on June 27, 1988.
January 17, 1986December 12, 1986Tim WitherspoonWBAUnited States American
March 22, 1986November 22, 1986Trevor BerbickWBCCanada Canadian
Jamaican-born Berbick was a naturalized Canadian citizen and former Canadian heavyweight champion.
November 22, 1986March 7, 1987Mike TysonWBCUnited States American
December 12, 1986March 7, 1987James "Bonecrusher" SmithWBAUnited States American
March 7, 1987August 1, 1987Mike TysonWBA & WBCUnited States American
May 30, 1987August 1, 1987Tony TuckerIBFUnited States American
Tucker, the organization's #1 rated challenger, was matched against James "Buster" Douglas for the vacant championship. Winning the bout, Tucker was immediately matched with Mike Tyson to unify the IBF, WBA and WBC titles. Tucker's reign as Heavyweight champion holds distinction as the shortest ever.
August 1, 1987May 6, 1989Mike TysonUniversalUnited States American
While Tyson held recognition as champion by the IBF, WBA and WBC, he was not universally recognized as champion until June 27, 1988, when he defeated the holder of Ring Magazine championship recognition, Michael Spinks.
May 6, 1989January 11, 1991Francesco DamianiWBOItaly Italian
Damiani defeated Johnny DuPlooy to become the first champion recognized by the fledgling World Boxing Organization, which had splintered off from the WBC in 1988. Despite this however, public perceptions of Mike Tyson as the division's 'true' champion was unaffected.
May 6, 1989February 11, 1990Mike TysonIBF, WBA & WBCUnited States American
February 11, 1990October 25, 1990James "Buster" DouglasIBF, WBA & WBCUnited States American
October 25, 1990November 13, 1992Evander HolyfieldIBF, WBA & WBCUnited States American
January 11, 1991December 24, 19913Ray MercerWBOUnited States American
May 15, 1992February 3, 19933Michael MoorerWBOUnited States American
November 13, 1992December 14, 19923Riddick BoweIBF, WBA & WBCUnited States American
Bowe's recognition as champion by the WBC was withdrawn when he refused to meet the organization's mandatory challenger, Lennox Lewis.
December 14, 1992November 6, 1993Riddick BoweIBF & WBAUnited States American
December 14, 1992September 24, 1994Lennox LewisWBCUnited Kingdom British
Following precedent set in 1978 when it awarded championship recognition to Ken Norton, following its withdrawal of recognition to Riddick Bowe as its champion, the World Boxing Council designated Lewis as champion, based on his October 31, 1992 victory over Donovan Ruddock in a bout to determine its next 'mandatory challenger.'
June 7, 1993October 29, 1993Tommy MorrisonWBOUnited States American
October 29, 1993March 19, 1994Michael BenttWBOUnited States American
November 6, 1993April 22, 1994Evander HolyfieldIBF & WBAUnited States American
March 19, 1994March 11, 1995Herbie HideWBOUnited Kingdom British
April 22, 1994November 5, 1994Michael MoorerIBF & WBAUnited States American
September 24, 1994September 2, 1995Oliver McCallWBCUnited States American
November 5, 1994March 4, 19953George ForemanIBF & WBAUnited States American
Foreman's recognition as WBA champion was withdrawn when he signed to fight popular German heavyweight Axel Schulz rather than the organization's #1 contender, Tony Tucker.
March 4, 1995June 28, 19953George ForemanIBFUnited States American
The IBF withdrew its recognition of Foreman when he declined a rematch with Axel Schulz. Schultz was matched with Francois Botha for the vacant title. The bout took place on December 9, 1995 in Stuttgart, Germany and resulted in a split decision points victory for Botha. Botha however tested positive for illegal anabolic steroids in a post-fight drugs test and the result was changed to a no-contest. Although some record books continue to list Botha as a world champion, the IBF state that they do not regard that he was ever champion.
March 11, 1995May 1, 19961Riddick BoweWBOUnited States American
April 8, 1995September 7, 1996Bruce SeldonWBAUnited States American
Seldon, the WBA's #2 contender at the time it withdrew championship recognition of George Foreman, defeated Tony Tucker, the #1 rated contender, to win the vacant title.
September 2, 1995March 16, 1996Frank BrunoWBCUnited Kingdom British
March 16, 1996September 7, 1996Mike TysonWBCUnited States American
June 22, 1996November 8, 1997Michael MoorerIBFUnited States American
June 29, 1996February 17, 19971Henry AkinwandeWBOUnited Kingdom British
Akinwande had been ranked the WBC's #2 contender when he won the WBO title. The WBC, as part of its long-standing policy following the formation of the WBO, removed Akinwande from its ratings altogether. In exchange for the opportunity to be matched against reigning WBC champion Lennox Lewis, Akinwande would relinquish his WBO title.
September 7, 1996September 24, 19961Mike TysonWBA & WBCUnited States American
Tyson and former WBC champion Lennox Lewis had reached a tentative agreement to fight following his match with Bruce Seldon. Prior to the Tyson-Seldon bout, however, a finalized bout contract could not be agreed to. Lewis, believing the tentative agreement was legally enforcable, filed suit against Tyson. As part of a legal settlement which ensued, Tyson relinquished his WBC title.
September 24, 1996November 9, 1996Mike TysonWBAUnited States American
November 9, 1996November 8, 1997Evander HolyfieldWBAUnited States American
February 7, 1997November 13, 1999Lennox LewisWBCUnited Kingdom British
Lewis defeated former WBC champion Oliver McCall to win the vacant championship title.
June 28, 1997June 26, 1999Herbie HideWBOUnited Kingdom British
November 8, 1997November 13, 1999Evander HolyfieldIBF & WBAUnited States American
June 26, 1999April 1, 2000Vitali KlitschkoWBOUkraine Ukrainian
November 13, 1999April 29, 20001Lennox LewisIBF, WBA & WBCUnited Kingdom British
In addition to the titles unified by Lewis and Evander Holyfield, the winner received recognition as champion by the International Boxing Organization. In early 2000, WBA #1 contender John Ruiz filed suit against Lewis and the World Boxing Association, claiming the WBA was violating its own rules by not forcing a bout between Ruiz and Lewis. A New Jersey court ruled in favor of Ruiz, ordering Lewis to either meet Ruiz in his next defense or relinquish the WBA title. Lewis, opting to fight a more lucrative bout against contender Michael Grant, notified the WBA that he had signed a contract to fight Grant, and would relinquish his title "effective upon entering the ring."
April 1, 2000October 14, 2000Chris ByrdWBOUnited States American
April 29, 2000April 22, 2001Lennox LewisIBF & WBCUnited Kingdom British
August 12, 2000March 3, 2001Evander HolyfieldWBAUnited States American
October 14, 2000March 8, 2003Wladimir KlitschkoWBOUkraine Ukrainian
March 3, 2001March 1, 2003John RuizWBAUnited States American
By beating Holyfield, Ruiz became the first person in history of Hispanic ancestry to become heavyweight champion as recognized by one of the major governing boxing bodies.
April 22, 2001November 17, 2001Hasim RahmanIBF & WBCUnited States American
November 17, 2001September 5, 20021Lennox LewisIBF & WBCUnited Kingdom British
Lewis relinquished the IBF title at the request of promoter Don King, who wished to stage a championship bout between former champion Evander Holyfield and Chris Byrd for the vacant title. King reportedly paid Lewis $1 million (USD) in consideration.
September 5, 2002February 6, 20042Lennox LewisWBCUnited Kingdom British
December 14, 2002April 22, 2006Chris ByrdIBFUnited States American
Byrd defeated former champion Evander Holyfield to win the vacant title.
March 1, 2003February 20, 20041Roy Jones Jr.WBAUnited States American
Upon defeating John Ruiz, Jones simultaneously held the WBA's Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight championship titles. At his request, the WBA suspended its own rules addressing such situations, designating Jones as its Heavyweight "Champion in Recess," and subsequently staging a bout for its "interim" championship title. Jones was subsequently given until February 29, 2004 to decide which of his titles he would defend. On February 20, 2004, he relinquished his Heavyweight title to focus on lower weight divisions.
March 8, 2003October 9, 20031Corrie SandersWBOSouth Africa South African
February 20, 2004December 17, 2005John RuizWBAUnited States American
On December 13, 2003, Ruiz defeated former WBC champion Hasim Rahman for the WBA's "interim championship." When Roy Jones Jr. relinquished his status as "Champion in Recess," Ruiz was recognized as champion on the basis of that victory. On April 30, 2005, Ruiz would be defeated by James Toney in a championship defense, but ten days later it was announced that post-fight drug testing determined Toney had taken the anabolic steroid nandrolone, a violation of its rules. The bout's result was subsequently changed to a "no contest" by the New York State Athletic Commission, whereupon the WBA announced its recognition of Ruiz as champion would continue.
April 10, 2004April 1, 2006Lamon BrewsterWBOUnited States American
April 24, 2004November 9, 20051Vitali KlitschkoWBCUkraine Ukrainian
During this period Klitschko suffered a number of injuries. Ultimately the WBC designated him as its "Champion in Recess," and ordered a bout between former WBC champion Hasim Rahman and Monte Barrett for its "interim championship." Klitschko, continued to be dogged by repeated injuries, would subsequently 'retire' from boxing, relinquishing his title.
November 9, 2005August 12, 2006Hasim RahmanWBCUnited States American
On August 13, 2005, Rahman defeated Monte Barrett to win designation as the organization's "interim" champion. When Vitali Klitschko, the WBC's "Champion in Recess," relinquished the title three months later, Rahman was deemed 'elevated' to 'full' championship recognition.
December 17, 2005April 14, 2007Nikolai ValuevWBARussia Russian
April 1, 2006November 4, 2006Siarhei LiakhovichWBOBelarus Belarusian
April 22, 2006February 23, 2008Wladimir KlitschkoIBFUkraine Ukrainian
In addition to the IBF championship, upon defeating Chris Byrd Klitschko was recognized as champion by the International Boxing Organization.
August 12, 2006March 8, 2008Oleg MaskaevWBCRussia Russian
Born in Kazakhstan to Russian parents, Maskaev emigrated to the USA in 1999 and acquired US citizenship in 2004. He did not become a Russian citizen until September 2006.
November 4, 2006June 2, 2007Shannon BriggsWBOUnited States American
April 14, 2007June 20, 20093Ruslan ChagaevWBAUzbekistan Uzbekistani
During this period Chagaev suffered injuries, including a complete tear of his Achilles tendon while training for a mandatory title defense scheduled for July 5, 2008 against Nikolai Valuev. Following this injury, the WBA designated Chagaev its "Champion in Recess," and ordered a bout between Nikolai Valuev and former WBA champion John Ruiz for its "vacant" championship. Chagaev would return to the ring, but refused to fight the second champion. Ultimately the WBA withdrew championship recognition of Chagaev.
June 2, 2007February 23, 2008Sultan IbragimovWBORussia Russian
February 23, 2008July 2, 2011Wladimir KlitschkoIBF & WBOUkraine Ukrainian
March 8, 2008October 11, 2008Samuel PeterWBCNigeria Nigerian
August 30, 2008November 7, 2009Nikolai ValuevWBARussia Russian
On August 30, 2008, Valuev defeated former WBA champion John Ruiz to win vacant title. Upon Chagaev's return to the ring, the WBA mandated that he box Valuev no later than June 26, 2009. When Chagaev failed to do so, Valuev was 'elevated' to full championship recognition, and Chagaev's recognition as champion was withdrawn.
October 11, 2008December 15, 2013Vitali KlitschkoWBCUkraine Ukrainian
November 7, 2009July 2, 2011David HayeWBAUnited Kingdom British
All of the major heavyweight titles were held by the Klitschko brothers, until December 15, 2013, when Vitali Klitschko stepped down as WBC champion.
August 27, 2011October 5, 2013Alexander PovetkinWBA ('Regular' Champion)Russia Russian
July 2, 2011PresentWladimir KlitschkoIBF, WBO & WBA ('Super' Champion)Ukraine Ukrainian

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Relinquished championship title.
  2. Retired as champion, relinquishing title.
  3. Championship recognition withdrawn by sanctioning organization due to champion's failure or refusal to defend title against the organization's #1 ranked contender.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]