By James Blears

It`s truly remarkable, how the heavyweight division has evolved during the modern era of Boxing, concerning height and weight.

Lanky freckled Bob Fitzsimmons who was five feet eleven inches tall, with a reach of just over seventy inches, won the heavyweight title in 1896, weighing around one hundred and seventy pounds. A fearsome body puncher, particularly to the “Slats,” Bob was slim even for his era, often being outweighed by twenty pounds…or more.   He made up for it with his pulverizing punching power, honed via his other trade as a blacksmith.  Bob had previously been middleweight champion of the world and after his time as heavyweight champion, he slimmed to become light heavyweight king.

When Noah Brusso, better known as Tommy Burns lost the heavyweight crown to the great Jack Johnson in 1908, he weighed only one hundred and sixty eight pounds, giving away thirty six pounds in weight!  Tommy only stood five feet seven inches tall, but with a relatively long reach of seventy four inches.

Fast forward to the eve of the roaring twenties when a six feet one inch Jack Dempsey weighing a svelte one hundred and eight seven pounds, with a seventy seven inch reach, won the title from six feet six inch tall Jess Willard, who weighed an ample two hundred and forty five pounds and was blessed with an eighty three inch reach.

This didn`t help Jess and he came up short!  Jack…spurred on by his manager Jack “Doc” Kearns,  tardily  advising him that he`d bet his entire purse on a first round KO,  smashed hapless Jess to the canvass seven times in that fateful fistful opening three minutes.  

Jack left the ring, convinced he`d won sport`s richest prize there and then, only to be raced back, because courageous Jess had somehow happened to get up and staggered over to his corner.  The mauling lasted two more torrid rounds, until Jess` corner convinced him to quit.  By that time his cheekbones had been fractured, along with four ribs and he was minus several teeth, a couple of which had lodged in Jack`s gloves!

Back then a fighter who had knocked down his opponent did not have to go to a neutral corner, but stood over the stricken boxer.  Not remembering the rule change at a later date, most likely  cost Jack his opportunity of winning back the title against Gene Tunney, in the now famous “Long Count” incident.

In the threadbare Great Depression years of the thirties, following the Wall Street Crash, there were several very big men up in the ring.  Namely Primo Carnera “The Ambling Alp” who stood six feet five inches tall with an eighty five inch reach, weighing a whopping two hundred and seventy pounds.  And Buddy Bear who was six feet seven inches tall with an eighty four inch reach, and quite a lot slimmer at two hundred at forty pounds.  

Size didn`t help either them against “The Brown Bomber” Joe Louis who was perfectly proportioned at  six feet two inches, two hundred pounds in weight, with a seventy six inch reach.  And my word, did he possess devastating punching power!

Joe`s magnificent reign lasted almost thirteen years, with an all time record of twenty five defences!   The longest of any heavyweight champion to date.  Some of the so called “Bum of the month” defences were against quality fighters, who were none the less dispatched one after the other.

Famous Trainer Morris “Whitey” Bimstein was often in the corner of the opposing fighter, so much so,  that deadpan Joe finally quipped: “Oh no…not  you again!”

Joe`s most cruel and unmerciful opponent was the IRS, who brutally taxed him on purses he donated to the Army and the Navy Benevolent Funds, keeping just a Buck for himself each time.  So he had to fight well past his prime.  In his ring twilight years, it was his real misfortune to come up against a young, hungry, bludgeoning Rocky Marciano, on his way up to the championship summit, while Joe was well past his peak.  

At only five feet ten inches tall, one hundred and eighty two pounds Rocky the wrecking machine, who`s reach only extended sixty seven inches,  wept in the locker room, after almost atomizing his childhood idol.  A philosophical Joe comforted and consoled him with the so sad words: “I guess everything happens for a reason.”

The scowling enigma called Charles “Sonny” Liston stood six feet tall and weighed just shy of two hundred pounds at his forbidding best.  With arguably the most drilling and scalding left jab in the entire history of the heavyweight division, followed up with a traced signature sledgehammer  left hook, his reach was an extraordinary eighty four inches.

George Foreman who`s four inches taller, but outreached by almost six inches, with a career best weight of just over two hundred and twenty pounds, prior to his second incredible career phase, confided that during sparring sessions when he himself was a youngster, Sonny seemed to loom seven feet tall and could take your head clean off with just one thunderous shot.  For the audacious incredibly brave teenager, fresh from Olympic triumph in Mexico, it was like facing down a twelve gauge shotgun firing squad! Thank God Dick Saddler was at hand!

The quicksilver genius of The Greatest, Muhammad Ali who at six feet three inches tall, with a reach of seventy eight inches, weighing a broad shouldered pencil slim two hundred pounds, unleashing   jabs, measured at twenty five percent faster than those of Sugar Ray Robinson, backed up by laser directed, lightning combinations, twice eclipsed Sonny who was probably close to twice his age!

Larry Holmes who also had a wonderful left jab and a long strong reign spanning 1978-83, with 19 defences.  Larry at six feet three inches with an eighty one inch reach and a tad heavier than Muhammad Ali.

Age and Mike Tyson caught up with Larry.  Relatively short at five feet ten inches with a reach of just seventy one inches yet two hundred and twenty pounds of iron muscle and awesome cannonball power!

But from here on in, we see a significant and radical height increase in the heavyweight division.  

Riddick Bowe.  Six feet five inches tall, two hundred and forty pounds, with an eighty one inch reach.  Lennox Lewis is the same height but with three extra inches of reach and five pounds heavier.  Vitali Klitschko at six feet seven inches tall, with a seventy nine inch reach, yet somewhat slimmer at around two hundred and thirty pounds. And today Deontay Wilder who`s six feet seven inches tall with an eighty three inch reach, wonderfully conditioned at just two hundred and fourteen pounds.

His future contenders could well be Anthony Joshua who`s six feet six inches tall with an eighty two inch reach and a career high of two hundred and fifty four pounds.  

Going back a few years, that`s  still  appreciably less than Nicolai Valuev who stands seven feet tall, weighing three hundred and twenty eight pounds and a wingspan of eighty five inches.   

Back to the present  Tyson Fury who`s six feet nine inches tall weighing two hundred and fifty four pounds in fighting trim, with an eighty five inch reach.

These guys are giants!   Their size and bulk is now becoming the norm and the rule, to ruling  the heavyweight division  rather than  the exception.  

The old boxing maxim is that a good big guy normally beats a good small guy.  The size disparity with other heavyweights nowadays is so gigantic, it poses the question that it might be time to create another division between cruiserweight… and them?   

How much bigger can they get?!


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