The 10 worst heavyweight champions of all time

From the man who ruled for all of 64 days before being ousted by Mike Tyson to Charles Martin’s embarrassing reign and the average Joe professional who once dethroned Muhammad Ali – here are the WORST heavyweight champions of all time

  • There’s been some legendary fighters to have ruled as heavyweight champion
  • But not every man to capture a major heavyweight belt has been a world beater
  • Sportsmail takes a look at the worst champions in boxing’s blue-riband division

It could be down to the senseless number of world titles up for grabs in these modern times or the fact that one punch can change it all in heavyweight boxing, but throughout history there have been some truly shocking and unlikely rulers of the sport’s blue-riband division.

Becoming the heavyweight champion is widely seen as the pinnacle of all sporting achievements, but not every man to have claimed a major belt has been cut from the same cloth as Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson or Wladimir Klitschko.

We are in a golden era of heavyweight boxing now with the likes of Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua helping to restore the glory days.

But it hasn’t always been the cream-of-the-crop fighters who have reigned supreme in the land of the giants.

Here, Sportsmail compiles a list of the 10 worst heavyweights to have been crowned world champion.

We are in a golden era with Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury helping restore boxing’s glory days

This is the short tale of when a prince became king, promised to conquer all and then got dethroned after faltering in his first expedition. 

Charles Martin was only given a world title shot because a boardroom of people decided he was next in line after Tyson Fury was stripped of the IBF belt.

Vyacheslav Glazkov was the man pitted against him. The Ukrainian, though smaller in stature, was fancied to take home the belt, but in the second round suffered an horrific knee injury. Unable to stand, he was subsequently pulled out in the third.

Charles Martin got a rude awakening when his reign as champ was ended by Anthony Joshua

Martin was floored twice before being stopped in the second round of his first title defence

Martin, who had got the shot on a technicality, was then handed the belt without breaking a sweat. Talk about the silver-spoon treatment.

The southpaw American ventured across the pond to make his first defence against Anthony Joshua only to leave swiftly with his tail between his legs. 

Joshua demolished Martin with ease in just two rounds and ended what was one of the strangest and shortest heavyweight reigns in history.

James Buster Douglas

James Buster Douglas will forever hold a place in boxing folklore for knocking out Mike Tyson in the biggest upset in heavyweight history.

No one will ever forget that night.

Douglas came into the fight with an undistinguished record and was facing the most feared man on the planet at that time.

James Douglas stunned the world when he sent Mike Tyson tumbling and out for the count

Douglas’ win was the biggest upset in heavyweight history but his reign would be short-lived

It was supposed to be a knock-over job for Tyson. But Douglas tore up the script and fulfilled his own dream by becoming world champion.

He secured a mega fight against Evander Holyfield next but was horribly out of his depth and was stopped in the third round.

Douglas would never scale those heights in the ring again and bowed out in 1999 as one of the unlikeliest men to hold the undisputed heavyweight championship. At least he will always have that famed night in Japan.

Tony Tucker 

For ability and talent alone, Tony ‘TNT’ Tucker far exceeds most on this list.

This was a man who had real amateur pedigree, finishing his career with 115 wins and just six defeats before turning over to the pro ranks.

As well as skill, Tucker possessed dynamite in his fists, claiming 47 knockouts from his 57 victories as a professional.

Tony Tucker was relieved of his world heavyweight title by Tyson just 64 days after winning it

He also took heavyweight greats Mike Tyson and Lennox Lewis the full distance, so he certainly belonged at world level.

Unfortunately, his place in boxing history will always be defined by the fact he is the shortest reigning world heavyweight champion ever.

Tucker ruled for just 64 days as the IBF champion before being outpointed by Tyson in a relatively close fight. 

Bermane Stiverne

Bermane Stiverne is another on this list to win the world heavyweight title and then lose it immediately.

The American was crowned WBC champion after stopping fringe-level fighter Chris Arreola midway through their contest for the vacant belt in 2014.

He came unstuck against Deontay Wilder in a very watchable 12-round clash eight months later.

Bermane Stiverne was crowned WBC champion after stopping Chris Arreola back in 2014

Stiverne lost his title against Deontay Wilder and was flattened in their rematch years later

Stiverne returned to winning ways in late 2015 before vanishing off the scene for two years.

His comeback in 2017 was a re-run of his intriguing encounter with knockout artist Wilder but this time he was grossly out of shape and gunned out in the first round.

He is now a gate-keeper in the heavyweight division and last fought in 2019, losing to British hopeful Joe Joyce. 

Primo Carnera   

He was a modern-day giant of his time but dodgy dealings and suspicious match-making left plenty of question marks over his legitimacy.

At 6 ft 6, Carnera towered over most heavyweights of the 1930s era and on more than one occasion held a six-stone advantage over his opponent – he was the heaviest man to ever win a world title before Nikolai Valuev become champion in 2005.

With a professional record of 89 victories and 14 defeats, Carnera looks, on the face of it, to have been a worthy champion.

Primo Carnera pictured flooring Jack Sharkey during their world title fight in New York in 1931

Carnera (L) was a giant of his time but was alleged to have been run by mobs (not pictured)

He also still boasts the record for winning more fights by knockout than any other heavyweight titlist in boxing history (72).

Carnera claimed the NBA, NYSAC, The Ring, and lineal heavyweight titles after knocking out Jack Sharkey in 1933 but his reign was short-lived as he lost the belts after making just two successful defences.

He was stripped of his titles by Max Baer and was reportedly knocked down during that fight 12 times. Carnera was backed by a group of prosperous but shady entrepreneurs and was alleged to have been mob controlled with the majority of his fights reportedly being fixed.

Siarhei Liakhovich

The Belarus heavyweight enjoyed a decent amateur career and even represented his country at the 1996 Olympic Games.

But his professional career, aside from the night he became world champion, was far from spectacular.

Siarhei Liakhovich claimed the WBO world title after earning a unanimous points decision over Lamon Brewster in 2006.

Siarhei Liakhovich became an unlikely champion in 2006 and is pictured here with Don King

The Belarus heavyweight became a gatekeeper and was beaten by Robert Helenius in 2011

He was soon vacated as champion though, Shannon Briggs stopping him in the 12th round in what was his first defence.

Liakhovich lost his next fight against Nikolai Valuev and was used as a stepping stone for upcoming heavyweights towards the backend of his career. 

Robert Helenius, Bryant Jennings, Deontay Wilder and Andy Ruiz Jr all beat Liakhovich between 2011 and 2014. He last fought in 2019, being stopped by Canadian Simon Kean, and his current record stands at a modest 27 wins and 8 losses.  

Leon Spinks

An Olympic Gold medallist who once defeated ‘The Greatest’ but had the record of a journeyman, Leon Spinks is an enigma who defied all logic.

His shock victory over Muhammad Ali in 1978 in what was just his eighth professional fight remains even today one of the biggest upsets in heavyweight history.

The win saw Spinks become the first and only man to strip Ali of a world title in the ring.

Leon Spinks is held aloft after shocking the world to strip Muhammad Ali of his world titles

Ali avenged his defeat months later and Spinks’ career was consigned to the gutter afterwards

Ali avenged the defeat by dazzling his way to a points win in the rematch seven months later, with a record 2 billion people tuning in to watch the fight.

Spinks gained notoriety for the calamity which befell his career following the loss to Ali. 

Although he would challenge for the heavyweight world title again, in 1981, and the cruiserweight belt five years later, Spinks was left crumpled in a heap on both occasions and would finish his career with a record of 26 wins and 17 defeats.

Ingemar Johansson

Ingemar Johansson’s right-hand was appropriately described as the ‘Hammer of Thor’.

The late great Floyd Patterson knew all about taking a right-hand flush from Johansson. He was floored seven times in one round in his world title stoppage defeat against the big-punching Swede in 1959. 

They say revenge is a dish best served cold but Patterson wasted no time in righting the wrongs and left Johansson out for the count in an immediate rematch and a succeeding trilogy bout.

Ingemar Johansson viciously battered Floyd Patterson to become the champion in 1959

Patterson got his revenge by leaving the Swedish boxer knocked out cold in their rematch

Johansson’s reign as champion had lasted just shy of a year and although he bounced back after the consecutive defeats against Patterson, he would never scale those heights again.

He was even floored by journeyman fighter Wim Smoeak in 1961 and called it quits just four more fights after his greatest night. 

A colourful character outside the ring, Johansson was renowned for his penchant for night clubs as opposed to fight clubs and even had a hit-record back in his native Sweden.

Corrie Sanders

Another unlikely champion, Corrie Sanders seized his moment and then faded into boxing obscurity.

The South African was questionably sanctioned to face Wladimir Klitschko for the WBO world strap in March 2003 despite having only fought three rounds in the two years prior. 

Sanders was given only a puncher’s chance but stunned the world by blitzing the Ukrainian inside just two rounds.

Corrie Sanders upset the odds to destroy Wladimir Klitschko and become the world champion

Vitali Klitschko avenged his brother’s defeat by stopping the South African in his next fight

Determined to prove his knockout win wasn’t a fluke, Sanders targeted Wladimir’s brother Vitali next.

But lightning didn’t strike twice and Sanders was brought crashing back down to earth after being completely dominated and dismantled in eight rounds.

Sanders was known for being a heavy hitter and was hailed by Klitschko and Hasim Rahman – who he had floored in a closely fought knockout defeat earlier in his career – in the years after his retirement, but as champions go, he would be filed under the very ordinary.

Shannon Briggs  

‘Let’s go Champ’ has become Shannon Briggs’ relentlessly irritating campaign slogan to remain relevant.

Briggs thinks if he keeps shouting loud enough and long enough, opportunities will arise out of the blue.

That, unsurprisingly, has not worked so far. After all, his career began 28 years ago and even at the height of it, Briggs was not considered one of the major players in the heavyweight division.

Lennox Lewis left Shannon Briggs on his backside during their world title fight back in 1998

Briggs lost WBO world title in his first defence against Russian heavyweight Sultan Ibragimov

His own catchline could have only been accurately directed at him for all of 126 days: that’s how long his reign was as the WBO heavyweight champion.

He has had four world title fights in his career and won only one of them, losing to Lennox Lewis, Sultan Ibragimov and Vitali Klitschko.

Briggs has won 60 times during his pro career but has no outstanding names on his record aside from George Foreman and Ray Mercer, who were far past their prime when they shared the ring with him.  

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The top 10 final-day showdowns in European history

David Beckham’s glorious Real Madrid swansong, Ronaldo’s tears at Inter Milan (and don’t forget Agueroooooo!)… 15 years on from ‘Helicopter Sunday’ seeing Rangers snatch the league from Celtic, the most dramatic final-day title wins in European history

  • Celtic conceded twice in the dying moments in 2005 to hand Rangers the title
  • But there have been many other dramatic final day showdowns across Europe
  • David Beckham’s Real Madrid had to come from behind to win LaLiga
  • But Inter Milan’s Ronaldo was left empty handed after final day loss in 2002 
  • Arguably England’s most dramatic encounter featured Sergio Aguero’s heroics 

It’s the time of year where usually in some corner of Europe we can expect to see a dramatic final day title decider. 

One of the greatest of them all came 15 years ago today when Rangers snatched the title from Celtic’s grasp in dramatic fashion in what is now famously known as ‘Helicopter Sunday’.

But how does it compare against other famous day finales where the title seemed to go on a country tour before landing at its final destination? Sportsmail looks as the greatest final day showdowns in Europe where you didn’t know where to keep your eyes. 

Rangers snatched the title away from Celtic in dramatic fashion in the 2004-05 season

It appears some things never change in Spanish football. After a close title battle between Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid throughout the year, the final day in 1992 came down between the former two, with Real a point ahead.

With just two points awarded for a win Barca needed to defeat Atletic Bilbao, while hoping relegation threatened Tenerife at home could deny Real victory.

With an equal head-to-head record with their rivals, goal difference was in Barca’s favour heading into the final day should the top two finish level on points.

Despite Barca winning 2-0 it didn’t look like being a factor when Real also raced out in front away from home by the same scoreline.

Tenerife hit back before the break but Real still looked on course for the title until they collapsed to concede twice with just over 10 minutes to play to hand Barca the crown. A year later they would once again lose against Tenerife with Barca picking up the pieces once more on the final day. 

A Barcelona side featuring Hristo Stoichkov (above) won LaLiga before going on to win the European Cup and complete a double

Stuttgart break Dortmund hearts after Frankfurt choke (1992)

Hard to imagine in the Bayern Munich-dominated world now but there was a time when the Bundesliga was arguably Europe’s best league for serving up final day drama.

Take the 1991-92 season for instance when heading into the final day, Frankfurt, Borussia Dortmund and Stuttgart went into their last fixtures all level on points.

Frankfurt had the advantage on goal difference but choked against an already relegated Hansa Rostock to lose 2-1 and miss out on a first ever Bundesliga title.

With Stuttgart being held in Bayer Leverkusen, Dortmund looked set to capitalise as they led 1-0 over Duisburg. They were just four minutes from the title until Guido Buchwald popped up to head in a Stuttgart winner and hand them just their second Bundesliga crown.

Stuttgart players celebrate winning the 1992 Bundesliga title in the dressing room

Bayern strike in stoppage time (2001)

And yet Stuttgart’s late show may not even be the best Germany has to offer. Heading into the final day of the 2000-01 season a Schalke side chasing a first modern day Bundesliga title had to win against soon to be relegated Unterhaching and hope Bayern Munich lost in Hamburg.

Schalke did their bit. Just. Battling back from 2-0 and 3-2 down to eventually win 5-3. But with Hamburg and Bayern still goalless heading into the final minute, all looked lost.

Then Hamburg scored, prompting wild scenes in Gelsenkirchen with Schalke fans pouring onto the pitch to celebrate.

But with mere seconds left there was a devastating final twist. Bayern won an indirect free-kick, and with a touch laid off to Patrik Andersson he fired home an equaliser to score the only goal of his Bayern career and snatch the title away from Schalke in the most dramatic fashion.

Patrik Andersson (left) celebrates with Owen Hargreaves after his stoppage time goal earned Bayern Munich the 2001 Bundesliga at Schalke’s expense

Ronaldo’s Rome ruin (2002)

The script was in place. Ronaldo’s magic would finally capture a domestic trophy at Inter Milan by helping them win the Italian top flight for the first time since 1989.

Inter went into the final day top of Serie A but they were far from nailed on to win the title. They were just one point ahead of Juventus and two ahead of defending champions Roma.

They would travel to the Stadio Olimpico too in their last game, not to face Roma but their main rivals Lazio. However with Lazio needing a win to secure a European spot, they were in no mood to roll over and deny Roma back-to-back titles.

As it was they didn’t need to worry. Although Roma won 1-0 at Torino, Juventus’s 2-0 victory at Udinese ensured their reign as champions was over.

It meant Inter had to win and despite taking the lead twice it was they who suffered ruin in Rome as they crumbled to a 4-2 loss thanks to a double from former Manchester United midfielder Karel Poborsky, with Diego Simeone and Simone Inzaghi hitting second half strikes.

Shortly after Inzaghi’s 73rd minute effort, Ronaldo was substituted and was left in tears on the bench in his final game for Inter who ended the season in third.

Ronaldo was left distraught after failing to win the title with Inter Milan in 2002

Goals scored edges Norway thriller (2004)

Forget winner takes all. Norway’s final day title decider in 2004 was a case of who could score the most goals.

Heading into their final fixtures Rosenborg and Valerenga were level on points but also level on goal difference. With Rosenborg having scored more goals it was they who had the slender advantage when they kicked off at home against Lyn.

Late in the game they led 3-1, but news soon filtered through that Valerenga were 3-0 up following a late strike against Stabaek.

Needing a goal to win the title for a 13th consecutive year, they poured forward and were rewarded a minute from time to snatch the title by the slimmest of margins of goals scored.

Rosenborg players line up before a Champions League game with Arsenal in 2004

‘Helicopter Sunday’ (2005)

‘There are moments in your career you can’t forget and that was one of them. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that day.’

Sportsmail’s Chris Sutton still cannot get over the nightmare of how Celtic blew the title from a winning position on the final day of the Scottish Premier League season in 2005 and giftwrap Rangers the title.

He had fired the Bhoys into a 29th minute lead at Motherwell and that looked to be enough heading into the last two minutes despite Rangers also winning 1-0 at Hibernian.

The helicopter was already on its way to Fir Park to hand Celtic the title before a Scott McDonald equaliser two minutes from time stunned the visitors, who then conceded again two minutes later in a dramatic collapse.

A swift change in direction from the chopper put it on course for the capital where Rangers held on at Easter Road to secure the title. 

Didier Agathe (left) and Neil Lennon stand dejected following a final day defeat at Motherwell

Beckham signs off with silverware (2007)

David Beckham’s Real Madrid career had its ups and downs but he looked like he would be heading for LA Galaxy without a trophy to his name at the Bernabeu following his blockbuster arrival four years earlier.

Yet having battled back from the fringes of Fabio Capello’s squad, he had helped spur Real Madrid into a title charge heading into the final day of the 2006-07 season.

Madrid realistically knew they had to win against Real Mallorca to deny Barcelona the crown, especially as their rivals were playing rock bottom minnows Gimnastic.

Of course, Barca cruised to a 5-1 win, but Madrid stuttered falling behind early on. Beckham had endured one of his poorer games of the season but his replacement on the night ensured he could still end his Madrid career with a winners’ medal.

Jose Antonio Reyes came on in the second half to net a brace on the way to a 3-1 victory and hand Capello’s side the title. 

Draped in a St George’s flag, David Beckham celebrates winning LaLiga in 2007 along with manager Fabio Capello and team-mate Fabio Cannavaro

Louis van Gaal’s unfancied heroes choke (2007)

Some Manchester United supporters may find it hard to believe but back in 2007, Louis van Gaal was on the cusp of pulling off a magnificent achievement by landing unfancied AZ just their second ever top flight title.

They went into the final day level on points with Ajax and PSV Eindhoven but with a comfortable goal difference to ensure that victory would be enough for the title.

However, Van Gaal’s side suffered defeat against minnows Excelsior, meaning Ajax were in pole position on goal difference. They saw off Willem II 2-0 but were left stunned when PSV recorded a 5-1 thrashing over Vitesse Arnhem to snatch the title with a superior goal difference of just one. 

Louis van Gaal reacts during his AZ side’s final day defeat at the hands of Excelsior

Aguero spares City blushes (2012)

Few of us need reminding of the details of this, but this is classic example of why instead of helicopters the Premier League opts to have multiple trophies that can be lifted at various grounds.

Manchester United looked to have had the job done. A professional performance in a 1-0 win at Sunderland meant that at full-time they could taste the champagne of another Premier League title victory.

You could forgive the early, if a little cautious, celebrations too as the only team that could deny them the title were local rivals Manchester City who in a must-win game were losing 2-1 at home to QPR as their game ticked into stoppage time.

City’s equaliser in the second minute of stoppage time through Edin Dzeko came just as the United game was coming to a close but any remaining smiles among the United players and fans at the Stadium of Light soon turned to anguish and horror once they found out Sergio Aguero had completed a remarkable turnaround a few seconds later at the Etihad and earn City their first top flight title for 44 years on goal difference.

Sergio Aguero’s last gasp strike against QPR in 2012 claimed the title for Manchester City

Big spending PSG denied first title in 18 years (2012)

It’s hard to think of anything other than the French title heading to the French capital these days but in 2012, PSG had just started flexing their new found financial muscle in the hope of winning their first title since 1994.

They enjoyed an excellent campaign but despite spending £82million, including a French record of £37million for Javier Pastore, they were seen off by a Montpellier side who had an annual budget of just £29million but featured Olivier Giroud in attack. 

Heading into the final day Montpellier were top and needed just a draw at rock bottom Auxerre to claim a first ever top flight crown. PSG did their bit in seeing off Lorient 2-1 but there was a slight twist to proceedings.

Despite leaving it late to claim three points, PSG still did not know their fate at full-time, with Montpellier’s match delayed three times due to crowd disturbances.

But as PSG stars looked on at big screens they could do nothing to prevent Montpellier coming from behind to win 2-1 thanks to two John Utaka strikes to help his side land a shock maiden French crown. 

Olivier Giroud celebrates with a fan after helping Montpellier win the French top flight

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