On this day in 1937, a new era for the heavyweight division was ushered in when Joe Louis shattered the glass slippers of boxing’s Cinderella Man, James Braddock, and kicked off one of the most incredible title reigns in the sweet science’s long and storied history.
Eighty-five years ago, at Chicago’s Comiskey Park, Louis pulled himself up from the canvas to stop Braddock in eight rounds and then followed it up with 25 title defences, spanning 11 years and 10 months.
To celebrate this monumental anniversary in the career of one of boxing’s most beloved champions, we’ve decided to look back at the 10 longest reigns in heavyweight history according to Boxrec.
10. Deontay Wilder (5 years, 1 month and 5 days)
The Bronze Bomber kicked off his half-decade-long reign back in 2015 with a unanimous decision win over Bermane Stiverne in 2015. The hard-hitting Alabaman would make 10 defences of his WBC strap, stopping all but one opponent (vs Tyson Fury, 2018) inside the distance.
Best Win During Reign: Vs Luis Ortiz (II), 2019 - KO7
9. Vitali Klitschko (5 years, 2 months and 4 days)
In 2008, the elder Klitschko brother picked up the vacant WBC title for a second time, having briefly retired in 2005, stopping Samuel Peter in eight rounds. During his second reign, Dr Ironfist would defend his bauble nine times before hanging up his gloves for good, beating the likes of Chris Arreola, Kevin Johnson, Shannon Briggs, Tomasz Adamek, Dereck Chisora and Manuel Charr along the way.
Best Win During Reign: Vs Tomasz Adamek, 2011 - TKO10
8. James J. Jeffries (5 years, 11 months and 4 days)
In the dying embers of the 19th century emerged James J Jefffries, a one-punch knockout artist who was the epitome of boxing brawn. Jeffries stopped the great Bob Fitzsimmons to seize the world heavyweight title in 1899 and won a TWENTY-FIVE round decision in his first defence. Jeffries then held the title undefeated until he retired in 1905, returning five years later to challenge Jack Johnson.
Best Win During Reign: Vs James J Corbett, 1900 - KO23
7. Muhammad Ali (5 years, 11 months and 9 days)
A strange reign to assess due to the confusion caused by Ali’s refusal to be inducted into the army during the Vietnam War, with the subsequent legal battle and stripping of his titles muddying the waters a little bit. The Greatest stopped Sonny Liston in 1964 to become champion and defended the title nine times against a who’s who of heavyweight boxing royalty. His three-year exile began in earnest in 1967, but he managed to hold on to portions of the heavyweight puzzle, like The Ring title, until 1970.
Best Win During Reign: Vs Cleveland Williams, 1966 - TKO3
6. Jack Johnson (6 years, 3 months and 10 days)
No boxer on this list had to work harder in actually acquiring a world title than Jack Johnson. Because of the colour of his skin and his phenomenal punching prowess, Johnson was probably the most avoided heavyweight in history and had to go all the way to Australia in 1908 to convince the then-world champion Tommy Burns to throw down with him. After beating Burns in 14 rounds to become the first black heavyweight champion of the world, the Galveston Giant wouldn’t lose until 1915.
Best Win During Reign: Vs James J Jeffries, 1910 - TKO15
5. John L. Sullivan (7 years, 0 months and 9 days)
From fighting in barroom brawls to becoming boxing’s first genuine superstar, John L. Sullivan is a pioneer of the sport. The last recognised bare-knuckle champion and first gloved heavyweight champion, The Boston Strong Boy held the division’s inaugural title until he was beaten via 21st-round KO against James J. Corbett in 1892.
Best Win During Reign: Vs Paddy Ryan, 1886 - TKO3
4. Jack Dempsey (7 years, 2 months and 19 days)
Regarded as one of the finest pugilists to ever lace up a pair of mitts, Jack Dempsey is synonymous with the Roaring Twenties. The aggression and brutality that the Manassa Mauler brought to the ring gave boxing a welcome shot of adrenaline during a time when many were still reeling from the aftermath of The Great War. Dempsey demolished Jess Willard in 1919 for the world title and held it until 1926 when he was beaten by Gene Tunney.
Best Win During Reign: Georges Carpentier, 1921 - KO4
3. Larry Holmes (7 years, 3 months and 12 days)
The Sportsman has waxed lyrical about how Larry Holmes could be the most underrated heavyweight ever and his lofty placing on this list justifies it. Sandwiched between the primes of Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson, The Easton Assassin’s reign at the top goes unnoticed by many. But in an era packed with talent he successfully defended his WBC title 16 times, his IBF title three times and won eight straight title defences by knockout, beating Joe Louis' record of seven and tying Tommy Burns’ record.
Best Win During Reign: Gerry Cooney, 1982 - KO13
2. Wladimir Klitschko (9 years, 7 months and 6 days)
Often derided as too robotic, the younger Klitschko certainly divided fans when it came to pure, unadulterated entertainment. But take a closer look at his record and it's clear that Klitschko is one of the finest prizefighters of the modern era. Dr Steelhammer defeated 23 opponents for the world heavyweight championship, more than any other heavyweight in history, won 25 world title fights and holds the longest combined heavyweight championship reign in history (4,382 days/12 years).
Best Win During Reign: Vs David Haye, 2011 - UD12
1. Joe Louis (11 years, 8 months and 8 days)
The benchmark for world title reigns and one that might never be topped. The first African-American to achieve nationwide hero status in the US and an integral part in breaking down the colour barrier in boxing, Louis would reign from 1937 all the way up until 1949, recording 25 consecutive defences - a record not just in the heavyweight division, but across all weight classes.
Best Win During Reign: Vs Max Schmeling (II), 1938 - KO1
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