Feature Issue Premium

21st Century Giants: The best heavyweights of the last 20 years

heavyweights Lennox Lewis
Matt Christie examines the form of modern heavyweights and ranks the 25 best since the year 2000

25. OLEG MASKAEV
2-1 (1) world title fight record

Best wins: Hasim Rahman, Derrick Jefferson, Sinan Samil Sam
MASKAEV could look like an elite heavy in one fight and utterly dreadful in his next. Hasim Rahman’s bogeyman, the Russian held the WBC title for a little while but losing it to Samuel Peter does little for his reputation. That he made it that far is good going when one considers he started the century with back-to-back KO losses to Lance Whitaker and Kirk Johnson.

24. FRES OQUENDO
0-2
Best wins: Clifford Etienne, Bruce Seldon, Maurice Harris

NOTORIOUS for being the WBA’s mandatory contender for pretty much the entire century, Oquendo was once a top class big man unlucky not to snare a portion of the title. He was on the wrong end of a few contentious decisions, blew a lead against David Tua and was nip-and-tuck with several fighters a long way above him in these rankings.

23. JOSEPH PARKER
3-1
Best wins: Andy Ruiz Jnr, Carlos Takam, Hughie Fury
LET’S face it, though not exactly thrillers, Parker’s close victories over Andy Ruiz Jnr, Carlos Takam and Hughie Fury are decent on paper. Didn’t cover himself in glory while losing to Anthony Joshua but was far from disgraced, and he must still wonder what might have been when he looks back on his thrilling loss to Dillian Whyte.

22. DILLIAN WHYTE
0-0

Best wins: Joseph Parker, Dereck Chisora (twice), Oscar Rivas
DILLIAN WHYTE enters the Top 25 due to a run of form between 2015 and 2020 that should have resulted in a major title shot. The win over Joseph Parker remains his best result and the two victories over Dereck Chisora highlighted his box office appeal. Had he secured victory over Alexander Povetkin, he would have been much higher.

21. JAMES TONEY
0-1-2-1NC

Best wins: Evander Holyfield, Fres Oquendo, Hasim Rahman (draw)
THE darling of nearly every fight fan, Toney’s spell at heavyweight has unquestionably been over-romanticised. Admittedly brilliant while bamboozling an old Evander Holyfield, his win over John Ruiz was changed to a no-contest when PEDs were found in his system. That affects his rating, so too does his indifferent-cum-disappointing form following that 2005 affair.

20. SAMUEL PETER
1-2 (1)

Best wins: James Toney (x2), Oleg Maskaev, Jameel McCline
THE Nigerian earns his spot thanks to two deserved points wins over a James Toney losing interest in his waistline but still clinging to some of his old form. After losing to Vitali Klitschko, Peter descended rapidly but there was a time when he was among the biggest punchers in the division. However, his reign as WBC champion is not the greatest advert for the division at that time.

19. KUBRAT PULEV
0-1

Best wins: Alexander Ustinov, Tony Thompson, Alex Dimitrenko
KUBRAT PULEV is the archetypal perennial heavyweight contender who struggles to win the big one but hangs around picking off the scraps to remain a factor. The Bulgarian thoroughly deserved his 2014 crack at Wladimir Klitschko after beating a string of familiar but still-useful contenders. Hasn’t really impressed since but he remains very hard to beat.

18. NIKOLAI VALUEV
6-2 (3)

Best wins: John Ruiz (x2), Evander Holyfield, Siarhei Liakhovich
THIS hairy beast astonished many with his dimensions but the fact he managed to get those gargantuan limbs moving together in time is a feat he never really gets credit for. He defeated several established contenders during his time and, believe it or not, a battle with Wladimir Klitschko was briefly the heavyweight fight we all wanted to see. His championship record, looking at numbers alone, is solid.

17. ROY JONES JNR
1-0

Best wins: John Ruiz
IT’S true that Roy Jones Jnr only fought once as a heavyweight and others below him also got the better of John Ruiz (and more besides). But his rise from 175lbs to heavyweight, bypassing cruiserweight completely, has to be taken into consideration when ranking his accomplishments – so too that he outscored a peak Ruiz before others failed to do the same with such aplomb.

16. CORRIE SANDERS
1-1 (1)

Best wins: Wladimir Klitschko, Al Cole, Michael Sprott
TAKES his place in the Top 20 by virtue of his two-round shellacking of a pre-peak Wladimir Klitschko. Phenomenally heavy-handed but ill-disciplined, it can be argued that Sanders never fulfilled his potential. That view is underlined when looking at his record to identify his best victories: Beating Klitschko leads the way but it’s a long way down after that.

15. RUSLAN CHAGAEV
3-1

Best wins: Nikolai Valuev (x2), John Ruiz, Volodymyr Vyrchys
ASK 100 boxing fans to name their favourite heavyweight of the century and it’s unlikely that Chagaev would get a single vote. But the Germany-based Uzbekistani was an effective and skilled fighter who was too good for all but the very best. A former WBA champion who broke into the Top 10 following victory over Volodymyr Vyrchys in 2006 and remained a fixture for 10 years.

14. DAVID TUA
0-1
Best wins: Michael Moorer, Fres Oquendo, Hasim Rahman (draw)

LIKE a bowling ball hurtling down an alley, Tua generally took out anything that stood in his way. But those who could move a bit, like Lennox Lewis and Chris Byrd, always presented problems. Perhaps already past his peak by the time the new century came along, Tua still scored a string of highlight-reel KOs against solid opposition.

13. DAVID HAYE
3-1 (2)
Best wins: Nikolai Valuev, John Ruiz, Dereck Chisora
HAMPERED by injuries as he rose from cruiserweight, Haye can only be judged on the activity he managed: The WBA title-winning victory over Nikolay Valuev was tight but worthy of praise; John Ruiz was past his best; Audley Harrison, well, say no more; the win over Dereck Chisora was arguably his best showing at heavyweight and he did better against a peak Wladimir Klitschko than most. Don’t forget the bombings of Monte Barrett and Tomasz Bonin, either.

12. LAMON BREWSTER
4-2 (2)

Best wins: Wladimir Klitschko, Andrew Golota, Luan Krasniqi
FOR a little while, after outlasting an anxious Wladimir Klitschko and wiping out the always erratic Andrew Golota, then-WBO champion Brewster was among the most feared fighters in the division. The humdinger with Luan Krasniqi is a forgotten classic but he suffered an eye injury during his 2006 loss to Siarhei Liakhovic that he never recovered from.

11. ANDY RUIZ JNR
1-2 (1)
Best wins: Anthony Joshua, Alex Dimitrenko, Tor Hamer

PERHAPS a touch high but Ruiz Jnr has to be rewarded for his jaw-dropping victory over Anthony Joshua which is one of the biggest upsets in history and, after Tyson Fury’s win over Wladimir Klitschko, is on a par with Hasim Rahman beating Lennox Lewis as the century’s most impressive heavyweight result. His effort in Part II was disappointing, though.

10. JOHN RUIZ
4-5-1-1NC (1)
Best wins: Evander Holyfield, Hasim Rahman, Andrew Golota

NOT the most popular fighter due to his spoiling tactics but he generally found a way to win. Deserved to win all three of his fights with Evander Holyfield at the beginning of the century and was a factor until he was stopped by David Haye in 2010. Being the wrong end of Roy Jones’ one-fight foray into the weight class will forever tarnish his reputation and was lucky, in a way, that Toney’s win over him was ruled out.

09. ALEXANDER POVETKIN
0-2
Best wins: Ruslan Chagaev, Chris Byrd, Dillian Whyte

ANYONE confused by his world title record being 0-2 should remember that Povetkin, just months after Wladimir Klitschko beat David Haye to win the WBA belt, was the first heavyweight beneficiary of that sanctioning body’s spurious secondary title. Nonetheless, the Russian’s consistency – despite losses to Klitschko and Anthony Joshua – is to be admired even if his drug test failures are not.

08. HASIM RAHMAN
1-3-1 (1)
Best wins: Lennox Lewis, James Toney (draw), David Tua (draw)

LANDS in the Top 10 by virtue of that devastating blow he ripped into Lennox Lewis’ chin in 2001. That came a year after a thrilling win over Corrie Sanders and he regained a portion of the championship when the WBC promoted him from Interim status in 2005. His one successful defence, a draw with James Toney, is noteworthy.

07. DEONTAY WILDER
10-1-1 (9)
Best wins: Luis Ortiz (x2), Tyson Fury (draw), Bermane Stiverne

RARELY has a fighter’s reputation plummeted so rapidly. This time last year Wilder was widely being hailed as the biggest puncher in heavyweight history but the critics swooped following his loss to Tyson Fury in their February rematch. The subsequent excuses haven’t helped, either. But the draw in the first fight, his five-year WBC reign and a series of bombastic victories demand respect.

06. CHRIS BYRD
5-1-2 (1)
Best wins: Vitali Klitschko, David Tua, Evander Holyfield

FORTUITOUS that Vitali Klitschko pulled out after nine rounds with a shoulder injury of their 2000 fight. But don’t forget Byrd, a natural light-heavy who chased riches in the banner division, accepted that fight at very short notice. Was beyond plucky while losing twice to Wladimir and used all his guile to beat the likes of David Tua, Evander Holyfield and Jameel McCline.

05. VITALI KLITSCHKO
12-2 (9) world title fight record
Best wins: Corrie Sanders, Samuel Peter, Juan Carlos Gomez

PLENTY won’t agree with Vitali Klitschko being as low as number five. But take a close look at his record and it’s difficult to locate the names on there to elevate him any higher. There were plenty of solid defences – fighters like Tomasz Adamek, Juan Carlos Gomez, Odlanier Solis and Chris Arreola – but the only two fighters he faced from this top 10 scored victories over him. He deserves serious praise for returning after nearly four years out to regain the WBC title from Samuel Peter. He might be the best fighter in these rankings but, through a mixture of bad timing and bad luck, he was never able to prove it.

Hall of Fame

04. ANTHONY JOSHUA
8-1 (6) world title fight record
Best wins: Wladimir Klitschko, Andy Ruiz Jnr, Alexander Povetkin

VERY difficult to pick between Joshua and Fury for the number three spot. Put their records side-by-side and Joshua has fought more consistently at the highest level so thus has more wins over ranked opponents. The big question has to be: Do those wins collectively trump what Fury achieved while the underdog against Wladimir Klitschko and Deontay Wilder? For me, not quite, but I’m not going to get into a heated row with anyone who disagrees. Joshua’s wins over Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, Dillian Whyte and righting the wrong against Andy Ruiz Jnr are all mightily impressive. A win over Fury would see his standing soar.

Anthony Joshua

03. TYSON FURY
2-0-1 (1) world title fight record
Best wins: Wladimir Klitschko, Deontay Wilder, Dereck Chisora (twice)

FURY takes his position in the top three by virtue of three fights: Ending the long reign of Wladimir Klitschko, the thrilling draw (concluded by that eternally astonishing final round) with Deontay Wilder and the subsequent thrashing Fury dished out in the rematch. Tyson, whose long-running row with UKAD saw his career go into a two-year tailspin, was the underdog in each of those bouts. Klitschko and Wilder, by the way, are the two longest-reigning belt-holders of the century. However, take those three results off his record and we’re left with wins over Dereck Chisora and Steve Cunningham as his finest.

Tyson Fury heavyweights boxing

02. LENNOX LEWIS
Legendary Lewis did some of his finest work in this century but he had his last fight in 2003
6-1 (5) world title fight record
Best wins: Vitali Klitschko, Hasim Rahman, David Tua

LEWIS was arguably at his best at the turn of the century as he ploughed through Michael Grant and Frans Botha, boxed the ears off David Tua and then thrashed an old Mike Tyson. The loss to Hasim Rahman doesn’t hurt his standing too much given the nature of his triumph in the return. Still doesn’t get the credit he deserves for beating Vitali Klitschko. Just because the Ukrainian wanted to continue doesn’t mean he should have been allowed to; the injuries Lewis bashed into Vitali’s face were truly horrific. For those aghast that he’s only number two must remember he only had seven fights in the 2000s.

Lennox Lewis

01. WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO
King Klitschko was the universal choice as the best in the division for many years
25-4 (19) world title fight record
Best wins: Alexander Povetkin, David Haye, Chris Byrd (twice)

AN incredibly effective boxer with a punch up there with the best in history, the Ukrainian pips Lennox Lewis due to his longevity, his ability to reinvent himself and that superlative championship record. Though he never had the chance to become the undisputed number one (the only bloke who could argue with his claim for any length of time was his brother), Wladimir took on all-comers during his time in the sport. His victory over David Haye remains the closest thing to a No.1 vs No.2 matchup the division has seen since Lewis retired. Kudos, too, for his effort in defeat while 41 years old against Joshua.

Wladimir Klitschko
Esther Lin/Showtime

Boxing news – Newsletter

Current Issue