Anthony Yarde seeks to become the UK’s eighth light heavyweight world titleholder, Sergey Kovalev stands in his way
The light heavyweight division has over 100 years of world championship history and is one of the original eight weight classes in professional boxing.
With those numbers, one would expect the U.K. to have a deep pool of former world champions to reference and a plethora of stories to tell. The reality, however, is that the U.K. has only produced seven light heavyweight world champions/ titleholders since the division was officially recognized outside of North America in 1903.
This Saturday, at the Traktor Sport Palace in Chelyabinsk, Russia, the unbeaten Anthony Yarde hopes to add his name to the list. The Adonis-like Londoner has power, speed, athleticism, skill and youth on his side, but he’ll need all of that and more if he is to dethrone three-time light heavyweight titleholder Sergey Kovalev.
When Yarde turned professional in May 2015, Kovalev was already a unified titleholder at 175 pounds. In his career, the menacing Russian has scored decisive wins over Nathan Cleverly, Bernard Hopkins, Jean Pascal (twice), Isaac Chilemba and Eleider Alvarez. In terms of top-level experience, the 28-year-old Yarde appears to be ominously out of his depth.
However, what the challenger does have is ambition and self-belief and those attributes, combined with his physical capabilities, make him a serious threat. Kovalev is 36 years old, he’s been known to blow hot and cold, and he’s been stopped before. Can Yarde make history by becoming the U.K.’s eighth world titleholder? Will the battle-hardened Kovalev teach the youngster a lesson?
The following is a list of the seven British fighters who have won legitimate world titles at 175 pounds:
Titles/ Reign: World / 1903 – 1905
When Fitzsimmons challenged Ireland’s John Gardner for the light heavyweight crown on Nov. 25, 1903, he was already a legend. At 40 years old, the Cornwall, England native had amazingly captured middleweight and heavyweight titles and now sought to become boxing’s first ever three-weight world champion. At the time, the division limit was 170 pounds, but both fighters agreed to come in at 168. The 26-year-old Gardner had scored a 12th-round stoppage over Jack Root to claim the championship, but he was a big underdog in his first defense and the odds turned out to be justified. At the Mechanic’s Pavilion in San Francisco, Fitzsimmons dropped Gardner multiple times over the scheduled 20-round distance and made history with a decisive points triumph.
Titles / Reign: World, Ring Magazine / 1948 – 1950
The ill-fated Mills had his night of glory on home soil at White City stadium in London before 46,000 fans on July 26, 1948. The defending champion was New Jersey’s Gus Lesnevich, who had already scored a 10th-round stoppage over the Englishman in a world title bout two years earlier. This time it would be different. Mills opened cuts around the American’s eyes early and dropped him twice en route to a 15-round decision. It was an amazing triumph, but the fairytale soon turned to tragedy. In June 1949, Bruce Woodcock annexed Mills’ British and European heavyweight titles via 14th-round stoppage, and Joey Maxim knocked him out in 10 to claim the light heavyweight crown seven months later. Mills committed suicide in July 1965 by shooting himself through the eye. His friends and family insisted that he was killed.
Titles / Reign: WBC / 1974 – 1977
When the legendary Bob Foster hung up his spurs as light heavyweight champion in September 1974, Conteh and the next available contender, Jorge Victor Ahumada, signed on to contest the vacant WBC title. Ahumada had recently fought to a draw with Foster, displaying skill and toughness in a bruising 15-round battle with an all-time great. On Oct. 1, 1974, at the Empire Pool in London, the proud Argentinian would be in another war against Conteh. After 10 rounds neither fighter had a significant lead, but Ahumada had stunned the home fighter in the eighth and marked him up around the eyes. Conteh would have to dig deep to prevail and he did just that, outpunching his opponent down the stretch. The super-popular Liverpool star won a 15-round decision and was a world light heavyweight titleholder at 23. Conteh made three successful defenses before relinquishing his crown due to a money dispute. Despite valiant attempts to regain, against Mate Parlov and Matthew Saad Muhammad, he was unable to get back on top.
Titles / Reign: WBC / 1986 – 1987, 1989, 1990 – 1991
No one would have picked Dennis Andries as a potential world champion, but “The Hackney Rock” would not be denied. On April 30, 1986, the Guyana-born Londoner won a 12-round split decision over American J.B. Williams to claim his first title. He defended successfully against Britain’s Tony Sibson before being stopped by the great Thomas Hearns in March 1987. Shortly thereafter, Andries joined Hearns’ and his acclaimed coach Emanuel Steward at the Kronk gym in Detroit. It was an audacious move that paid off in spades. After outpointing former IBF titleholder Bobby Czyz, Andries was given a shot at the vacant version of his old title. On Feb. 2, 1989, he confounded the critics once again, easily halting Tony Willis in five to become a two-time world titleholder. A crushing 12th-round stoppage loss to Australian Jeff Harding could have been the end for Andries, but he wasn’t done. Incredibly, at the age of 36 years old, he came from behind to knock Harding out in seven rounds to regain his title once again. Andries’ final championship bout was a rubber match, which he lost on points.
Titles / Reign: IBF / 2005 – 2008
Woods didn’t do anything spectacular in the ring, but he was a gym rat and made the most of what he had. Following a gallant effort, the Sheffield technician was outclassed and stopped by undisputed champion Roy Jones Jr. in September 2002. Woods, however, used that loss to his advantage, learning from the experience and gradually improving. He pushed Jones conqueror Glen Johnson close in two IBF title fights in 2003 and 2004 but came away with a draw and a points loss. When Johnson was stripped of the title for facing Ring Magazine champion Antonio Tarver, Woods stepped in to face mandatory challenger Rico Hoye for the vacant belt on March 4, 2005. The Englishman dominated and came away with a fifth-round stoppage. Woods made four successful defenses, including a revenge win over Johnson, before surrendering the belt to Tarver in April 2008. His final world title bout was a points loss to then-IBF belt holder Tavoris Cloud.
Titles / Reign: Ring Magazine / 2008 – 2009
Calzaghe’s incursion into 175-pound territory was short and sweet. The quick-fisted Welshman had cleaned house at super middleweight, winning every belt available, including the inaugural Ring Magazine championship at 168 pounds. Now firmly established as one of the finest pound-for-pound fighters in the world, Calzaghe targeted the light heavyweight division. The lineal and Ring Magazine champion at 175 was the great Bernard Hopkins, who had moved up two weight classes to dominate Antonio Tarver in his light heavyweight debut. Calzaghe faced “The Executioner” on April 19, 2008 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, and while the styles didn’t gel, the Welshman earned his victory. Hopkins landed the cleaner blows and scored a first-round knockdown, but Calzaghe’s work rate and aggression proved decisive and he claimed a career-defining 12-round split decision. In his only defense, Calzaghe rose from another first-round knockdown to thoroughly dominate what was left of a faded Roy Jones Jr. Never defeated in his professional career, Calzaghe retired with a record of 46-0 (32 KOs).
Titles / Reign: WBO / 2011 – 2013
Welshman Nathan Cleverly may not have had Calzaghe’s class or pedigree, but he certainly had his energy and fighting guts. After claiming British, Commonwealth and European titles, the unbeaten volume-puncher targeted the world scene and enjoyed plenty of success. After defeating Nadjib Mohammedi for the interim WBO belt, Cleverly was matched against German southpaw Juergen Braehmer for the full title. That bout fell through when Braehmer sustained an eye injury, so Cleverly was immediately upgraded to full champion. Between May 21, 2011 and April 20, 2013, he made five successful defenses against Aleksy Kuziemski, Tony Bellew, Tommy Karpency, Shawn Hawk and Robin Krasniqi. Hopeful of securing a lucrative unification bout, Cleverly was eager for a significant test and selected Russian power-puncher Sergey Kovalev for his next title defense. It proved to be a shattering experience. Cleverly was floored twice and hammered mercilessly by the challenger, who posted a dominant fourth-round stoppage. After taking some time off, Cleverly returned as a cruiserweight but was clearly too small to get anything done in that weight class. He returned to light heavyweight and his last victory of consequence was a sixth-round stoppage of Braehmer, who was pulled out due to an arm injury.
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for The Ring. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing
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