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How many times have British fighters clashed for the world heavyweight title? Tyson Fury poised for Derek Chisora trilogy after dispatching Dillian Whyte

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Not for the first time in recent years, London will be the centre of the heavyweight boxing universe on Saturday.

Seven months on from his triumphant homecoming against Dillian Whyte in front of 94,000 fans at Wembley, WBC champion Tyson Fury will face old foe Derek Chisora for a third time at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

It has not always been this way for UK fighters in boxing’s blue-ribbon division. In fact, for much of the 20th century, the “horizontal British heavyweight” was something of a comedy standard for boxing writers and commentators in the United States.

Even though the country now boasts historically its greatest depth in terms of boxing big men, this will be only the sixth time two Britons have contested a world heavyweight title.

Within that number, there is an asterisk or two and a couple of stinkers. So how will Fury vs. Chisora III live up to this curious legacy?

MORE: Did Tyson Fury fight David Haye? The Gypsy King and the Hayemaker’s ongoing war of words

When was the first all-British heavyweight title fight?

After Bob Fitzsimmons stepped up from middleweight to rule the heavyweight world between 1897 and 1899, Britain had to wait almost a century for its next champion.

Lennox Lewis was awarded the WBC belt vacated by his old amateur rival Riddick Bowe in December 1992. It was a wholly unsatisfactory way to be crowned and Lewis, who boxed for Canada to win gold at the 1988 Olympics, needed to endear himself to his new public.

After a unanimous decision win over Tony Tucker in his first defence, Lewis returned to the UK to take on national hero Frank Bruno. Cardiff Arms Park staged the first all-British world heavyweight title fight on October 1, 1993.

Bruno had followed on from that British tradition of gutsy, well-loved sluggers like Henry Cooper who came up short against the very best, having already been stopped on two previous bids for world honours by Tim Witherspoon and Mike Tyson.

This one went the same way for Big Frank, even though he enjoyed success early on. Lewis landed a flush counter left hook in the seventh and Bruno had no escape from the resulting barrage.

Was the WBO a legitimate boxing world title in the 1990s?

The old horizontal jibes returned when Oliver McCall stopped Lewis in the second round of his fourth defence. He had to wait almost two and a half years, but Lennox got the vacant belt back in a rematch with McCall — albeit in utterly bizarre circumstances when the erratic American dropped a TKO loss for refusing to defend himself.

A trend of fairly unsatisfactory victories continued when Lewis took on compatriot Henry Akinwande in Nevada on July 12, 1997 — the only all-British world heavyweight title fight to take place overseas. It proved to be a forgettable affair as Akinwande was disqualified in the fifth for persistent holding.

To take the fight with Lewis, Akinwande had vacated the WBO heavyweight title. Now in the possession of Oleksandr Usyk after his win back-to-back wins over Anthony Joshua, it is considered one of the four portions to make up the undisputed title alongside the WBC, WBA and IBF.

But when Lewis fought Evander Holyfield in a bout billed as Undisputed at Madison Square Garden in 1999, the WBO strap was not part of the picture. This provides one of the marks against our asterisk bout from March 19, 1994.

London-born American Michael Bentt stunned Tommy Morrison in the opening round to win the WBO title and his first defence took place at The Den against Herbie Hide. 

Bentt, a decorated amateur with the United States, and Hide got to work a little early, rolling around in their suits in the rain as a pre-fight photocall went wildly, if hilariously, off track.

Once they got in the ring, Hide dominated Bentt and stopped him in seven. Was it a fight between two British fighters? Sort of. Was it a proper world title? Hmm…

Having said that, a major belt being on the line is not necessarily a guarantee of quality, as a largely enraged crowd at Manchester Arena found out on November 13, 2010.

Why did David Haye fight Audley Harrison?

Lewis rode off into the sunset after a 2003 win over Vitali Klitschko, although things did not go to plan for his presumed heir.

Audley Harrison won super-heavyweight gold at the Sydney Olympic games in 2000, but a combination of promoters and broadcaster disputes and injuries were among the numerous reasons why he never scaled the heights in the paid ranks.

One of those injuries occurred very publicly as he damaged his right pectoral during a 2010 European title fight against Michael Sprott, who knocked Harrison out in their first meeting. Down on the cards and boxing one-handed, Audley uncorked a devastating left hook to KO Sprott and salvage his career.

It meant, improbably, a shot at David Haye, the former unified cruiserweight champion who had stepped up to dethrone the gigantic Nikolai Valuev for the WBA crown. Although a stunning David vs. Goliath feat, that one was hardly packed with action. Compared to Haye vs. Harrison, it was a thrill-a-minute.

Harrison kept to himself the fairly significant detail that his pectoral had not fully healed. He went into the ring waiting for the chance to land a Hail Mary punch. 

So he waited. And waited. Haye got bored of waiting and put him out of his misery in the third round. The British Boxing Board of Control were so put out by a display of apparent pacifism from Harrison — during which he landed a solitary punch — that they withheld his purse before seeking his observations.

Haye’s next bout, a unification with Wladimir Klitschko, ended with him dropping a wide points decision and blaming an injury to his little toe. Like Harrison, his standing with the British boxing public was in the mud, but a new generation of fan favourites were on the way.

Did Anthony Joshua and Dillian Whyte fight for a world title?

Seven months after taking on Fury in poor condition to suffer a first career defeat at Wembley Arena in July 2011, Chisora faced Vitali Klitschko for the WBC heavyweight title.

He lost on points after a brave and industrious effort, brawled with Haye at the post-fight news conference, who he then fought at Upton Park in July 2012 and lost to in five rounds.

That made it four defeats in five outings for Chisora, yet it was only the beginning of a decade in the upper echelons of the heavyweight division fighting all-comers.

There was a rematch with Fury, a thrilling pair of bouts with Whyte and a clash with Joshua’s would-be conqueror Usyk. Chisora won none of those and never got another title shot after the Klitschko bout. That remained the case until a revenge win over Kubrat Pulev in July, after which boxing’s volatile winds blew in the direction of another dance with Fury.

Joshua followed in Harrison’s footsteps at London 2012 but wasted no time in excelling as a professional, lifting the IBF title that Fury had vacated with a second-round knockout of Charles Martin in his 16th bout.

AJ’s previous outing in December 2015 had been far more taxing, as he and Whyte went to war over a long-simmering feud. It ended dramatically in Joshua’s favour in the seventh, but a rematch has remained on the table ever since. Promoter Eddie Hearn again spoke of making Joshua vs. Whyte II in 2023 after the latter’s points win over Jermaine Franklin.

Fury’s extended career hiatus coincided with the bulk of Joshua’s initial title reign, while AJ’s defeats to Andy Ruiz Jr and Usyk cleared the way for Whyte to step in and potentially crown a golden era for British heavyweights. On the night at Wembley, the Bodysnatcher’s long wait for a WBC title shot appeared to catch up with him as he made little impression before being switched off by a sixth-round uppercut

Joe Joyce joins Joshua and Whyte in The Ring’s top five heavyweights, a list from which Fury is only absent on account of his on/off retirement antics earlier this year. Daniel Dubois will defend his WBA ‘regular’ title on the undercard of Fury vs. Chisora III.

Whatever happens in north London on Saturday, expect a seventh all-British world heavyweight title fight to be along soon enough. Those who were once horizontal have become heroes.


Credit: sportingnews.com

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