Boxing’s Worst World Title Fights
By Henry Walter
Professional boxing has no official governing body that rules supreme. Instead the aptly named “alphabet” bodies run the sport, all appointing their own separate champions and sanctioning their own title fights.
These alphabet title fights range from the fairly credible bouts that the likes of the WBC (World Boxing Council) and IBF (International Boxing Federation) put on to the often fairly farcical ones organised by lesser known sanctioning bodies such as the WBF (World Boxing Foundation).
This has resulted in the diminishing status of the tag of “world title fight”. Hardcore fans generally know who the real champions are but the state of boxing today understandably causes confusion for the casual fan.
The quality of “world title” fights can vary hugely. Gennady Golovkin versus Saúl Álvarez (for the unified WBA Super, WBC, IBF and IBO belts) pitted the two best middleweights in the world against each other. Robert Brant vs Yota Murata, for the WBA title, did not.
Some “world title” fights held over the years have been truly terrible for various reasons. Genuine world championship fights, that pit the best against the best, tend to produce the best quality fights but even this isn’t always the case. In this article I will examine five of the worst “world title” fights ever held.
Due to the huge array of “world title” belts currently available in modern boxing I have narrowed my list down to only fights that were sanctioned by the four oldest sanctioning bodies.
5. Roy Jones Jr vs Richard Frazier
WBC/WBA Light-heavyweight Championship
The fact that there are multiple “world title” belts available to win for modern boxers means that on occasion fighters who aren’t world level can find themselves high in the rankings with one particular body. This is what occurred when, unheralded New York policeman, Richard Frazier bizarrely found himself ranked as the number one contender with the WBC, despite having no notable wins on his record.
Jones, as the WBC champ, was forced by the WBC to defend against Frazier. The boxing media predicted that Frazier would be in over his head and so it proved. Frazier boxed on the retreat, barely throwing any punches. The 39-year-old finally fell in the second round courtesy of a Jones left hook, having not landed any notable punches on the peerless Jones.
“I don’t stop them. I just fight. I don’t pick the guys. He was the number one contender. It’s not my job to tell those people what to do.”- Roy Jones Jr, 1999
4. Wladimir Klitschko vs Alexander Povetkin, WBA, IBF and WBO Heavyweight Championship
This 2013 heavyweight matchup was a legitimate world championship match. Klitschko was the reigning recognised champion and Povetkin was in possession of a major title, the WBA.
Povetkin, like Klitschko, was an Olympic gold medalist and his 26-0 record contained some notable names. Pre-fight he was seen as a very stiff test for Klitschko.
Against expectations the fight was a dreadful one. As the home fighter Klitschko was allowed to get away with excessive holding and leaning in what was ultimately a very safety first and embarrassing display.
Dubious refereeing saw Klitschko fail to be deducted a single point and even awarded knockdowns for pushing Povetkin to the floor. Klitschko won a wide decision but the bout is widely believed to be one of the reasons American TV giant HBO eventually decided not to show Klitschko’s fights.
3. Lennox Lewis Vs Henry Akinwande, WBC Heavyweight Championship
This 1997 fight seemingly had all the makings of a classic. Akinwande had a brilliant, undefeated 32-0-1 record and was seen as a very credible challenger for Lewis’s title.
Sadly the fight quickly became an embarrassing affair as Akinwande, apprehensively clung to Lewis whenever he could, refusing to throw punches.
The Referee, Mills Lane, warned Akinwande throughout the fight and even deducted a point from him due to his excessive holding. Akinwande continued this bizarre holding tactic throughout the fight and was finally disqualified by Lane in the fifth round.
2. David Haye vs Audley Harrison, WBA Heavyweight Championship
David Haye and Audley Harrison both talked a good fight in the build up to their 2010 WBA title fight. They did not produce one.
Harrison had a history of freezing on the big stage and his nerves got the better of him once again. Boxing as if paralysed by fear, Harrison simply refused to throw punches.
Haye had a reputation for being an explosive puncher, yet in front of a capacity crowd at the Manchester Arena, Haye too was remarkably passive for the first two rounds. It later transpired that Haye had predicted a third round knockout to family and friends, it was claimed that some of them had placed bets on a third round finish.
Haye noticeably stepped it up in the third and Harrison immediately succumbed, having thrown just one solitary punch in the whole three rounds. Harrison’s purse was briefly withheld after the fight while he was investigated by the British Boxing board of control for lack of effort. He was eventually awarded his full pay.
1. Johnny Nelson vs Carlos De Leon, WBC Cruiserweight Championship
By 1990 Sheffield star Johnny Nelson had overcome a tough 0-3 start to his career to win the British title and put himself in line for a shot at the WBC “world title”.
In the opposite corner stood the solid Puerto Rican puncher Carlos De Leon. A self-confessed coward, Nelson would later overcome his self-doubt demons to mature into a formidable world champion. In 1990 he was a skittish twenty-three year old, severely lacking belief in his ability.
Boxing in front of his home crowd Nelson failed to perform in the worst way imaginable. Nelson used his excellent footwork to avoid a lacklustre De Leon for the entire fight, but neither threw or landed any punches of note throughout the whole twelve rounds.
The three judges seemed as bored of the spectacle as everyone else and scored the fight a draw. The fight remains the most terrible “world title fight” in boxing history.
“It took me five years to get over the Carlos De Leon fight… and I didn’t even lose!”- Johnny Nelson