Heavyweight boxers, the bigger they are the harder they fall. Sadly, this saying is all too true for some top heavyweights and is especially relevant today. With the news that Tyson Fury has voluntarily given up his world heavyweight titles to focus on his recovery, I feel it’s an important time to highlight the fact that the spotlight cast by world championship glory can be a heavy burden to bear.
Yes, it could be said that in some cases a man’s own personal life choices and the people he surrounds himself with can play the most dangerous part in their story but the addition of world championship status and overnight global recognition can add unnecessary stress to an already delicate or explosive situation.
Get well soon, Tyson. Here are my top 5 heavyweight boxers who struggled through stardom:
5. ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson
Tyson was undoubtedly the biggest name to hit heavyweight boxing since Muhammad Ali when he debuted back in 1985.
The earth-shattering force he carried in both fists quickly became the stuff of legend, tearing through an astonishing nineteen contenders during the first twelve months of his career alone.
Sixth months and several more brutal meetings later, Tyson won the WBC heavyweight title with a quick-fire knockout of a disorientated Tervor Berbick.
‘Iron’ Mike had arrived.
However, after a shock loss to Buster Douglas several years later, things went from bad to worse for ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’. His hypothetical moniker became all too real when he was arrested and charged with rape in 1991, serving just under three years behind bars.
Tyson has always protested his innocence.
While still recognised as an all time great, Tyson has admitted that he has had his fair share of struggles with drugs and alcohol, during and after his time in the ring, going as far to say his alcoholism almost claimed his life. He has also since been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
4. Oliver McCall
By no means the perfect fighter, Oliver McCall had suffered several bad defeats to small-time names throughout his Boxing career, which is why it came as a shock to everyone when he stopped a peak Lennox Lewis back in 1994, at Wembley Stadium of all places.
He even battled to a unanimous decision victory over a future hall of famer in Larry Holmes – impressive stuff.
However, he would go on to lose the heavyweight title to a gritty and determined Frank Bruno, once again at Wembley, in one of the most joyous and celebrated nights in British boxing history.
Even with various drug, drink and violence related offences, what made McCall a household name to the boxing faithful was the now infamous ‘Crying Incident’.
(Hat tip – Boxing Now YouTube channel):
During his rematch with Lennox Lewis, McCall broke out into floods of tears between rounds and seemed to show no regard to his own safety while taking punches from the former champion.
While it was known crying was a tactic used by McCall to psych himself up before the fight, nobody expected a spontaneous outburst to take place in the ring.
After trying to encourage McCall to gather himself, veteran referee Mills Lane had no choice but to call a stop to the contest, awarding Lewis the vacant WBC title via TKO in what is now recognised as one of the most bizarre events in boxing history.
3. Andrew Golota
The only fighter on this heavyweight boxers list never to have held a legitimate version of the Heavyweight title, Andrew Golota was Poland’s premiere boxing star of the nineties, laying claim to a very impressive 28-0 undefeated streak by the summer of 1996, which is where everything started going downhill for the former Olympian.
Golota faced tough-as-nails former heavyweight champ Riddick Bowe on July 11th 1996.
Despite being able to trade with Bowe and successfully holding his own, many of Golota’s shots found themselves landing below the belt line, leading to multiple warnings from the referee.
Golota became needlessly frustrated in the biggest fight of his career and ended up having three points deducted over the course of the fight, before finally being disqualified.
A massive riot spilled out of the ring into the crowd in one of the most re-watched sporting debacles in history.
Despite the post-fight violence a rematch took place some months later. Shockingly, the result was exactly the same. Golota was disqualified for repeated low blows. A double-whammy of a career killer.
Add to this the ultimate display of cowardice in failing to rise from the corner against Mike Tyson and any hopes of a once optimistic prospect were well and truly dead.
2. Frank Bruno
One of the most beloved and respected British heavyweight boxers of all time, Frank Bruno’s status as a sporting icon in Britain is well deserved not just for his actions in the ring, but his work outside of it.
After numerous attempts at capturing heavyweight gold, against Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson respectively, Bruno would finally be crowned heavyweight champion of the world with an emphatic unanimous decision victory over Oliver McCall at a jubilant Wembley Stadium in London, England (See above).
He would ultimately lose the belt to Tyson in a rematch, a loss which would prove not to harm his reputation in the slightest. Having been previously KO’d by Tyson, Bruno was the quintessential have-a-go-hero of British boxing.
Since his retirement his battles with alcohol, drugs (primarily cocaine) and his psychological state have all been major talking points in the British press.
Bruno became the target of a relentless tabloid attack when he was committed under the mental health act. Since then, he has been an avid spokesperson of mental health conditions including depression and bi polar – both of which he suffers with.
His work with various charities has helped raise incredible amounts of financial contribution and awareness as he continues to inspire those in need of psychological help.
My partner has had the privilege of chatting with Frank Bruno on multiple occasions and I’m happy to report – from what she tells me about the last time they spoke – his lovable smile hasn’t gone anywhere yet.
1. Sonny Liston
Widely regarded as one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, Sonny Liston’s fame is only exceeded by the mysterious nature of his death.
Many believed him to be an invincible fighter in his earlier years and, considering the list of opponents he had dominated until that point, you couldn’t really blame them.
However, it would be a young, arrogant kid from Louisville, Kentucky that would disprove the Liston mythos – as you all know.
After back to back losses to Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali), one of which was shrouded in controversy, Liston would never reach the heights of the heavyweight division again before his untimely and eerie end.
While the official verdict was that of a ‘heroin overdose’, there were numerous signs, including wounds on Liston’s body, that suggested foul play.
Due to his connections with the criminal underworld, many believe Sonny was murdered in a gangland hit.
Now the subject of countless publications his life and death remains the greatest enigma in heavyweight boxing history, one which may never be fully understood or solved.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol, drugs or depression-related conditions, please take advantage of available helplines and local support services.
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