Knights, Kings And Bouncers: The Men Who Have Held The British Heavyweight Title

For some the British title is a springboard to greatness, for others it is their career highlight
08:00, 19 Jul 2022

The British Boxing Board of Control has ordered a fight between Fabio Wardnley and Nathan Gorman for the vacant British heavyweight championship. ‘Juggernaut’ Joe Joyce has relinquished the belt to pursue world honours, and now two emerging domestic talents will duke it out for the iconic Lord Lonsdale Challenge Belt.

The British heavyweight title has been worn by some fighters who went on to conquer the world. It has also been a career highlight for some domestic heavies who never quite breathed that rarefied air. But what this prestigious title has always done is garner interest, respect and excitement amongst boxing fans all over the country.

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Here’s a look at some of the men who have lifted this storied title over the years.

Bombardier Billy Wells

The Bombardier was the first heavyweight to win a Lonsdale belt outright, and the record-holder for title defences with 14. Wells’ reign ran through the First World War, where he enlisted in the Welch Regiment. The Londoner continued to defend the title while actively serving, and was also enlisted to provide physical training to troops.

Wells was due to fight world heavyweight champion Jack Johnson in 1911 but the bout was cancelled by home secretary Winston Churchill. The future Prime Minister put a stop to the bout due to pressure from religious groups over the “excessive” prize money on offer and the angry reactions of racist groups who opposed black fighters featuring in contests with caucasians.

Sir Henry Cooper

The only winner of three outright Lonsdale belts, Cooper is perhaps the greatest British heavyweight never to lift the world crown. ‘Our ‘Enry’ won his first domestic title with a 15-round decision over Brian London in 1959 and was the reigning champion when he knocked down Cassius Clay before being stopped in 1963.

Cooper’s final professional bout saw him lose his British title for the last time, as well as his European and Commonwealth straps, to Joe Bugner via a controversial decision. But his decade-spanning reigns as champion helped define the iconic title.

lennox lewis dethroned the unbeaten gary mason to win the british heavyweight title
lennox lewis dethroned the unbeaten gary mason to win the british heavyweight title

Lennox Lewis

The worst inhabitants of social media comments sections will try to tell you the West Ham-born legend is Canadian but he is as British as they come, as evidenced by the fact he held the British heavyweight title. Like many future world titlists, his time with the title was relatively brief but impactful.

Lewis became the first man to beat the highly-touted Gary Mason in his title-winning effort. The champion then knocked out former world cruiserweight king Glenn McCrory in two rounds to stamp his authority on the domestic division. His final defence before relinquishing the belt to chase world honours was a third-round stoppage of Commonwealth champion Derek Williams.

Julius Francis

A recent viral star after a clip of him dealing with an unruly patron in his capacity as a bouncer emerged, Francis was some fighter even with gloves on. His 23-24-1 record doesn’t tell the whole story, particularly when you factor in that he fought future world heavyweight champion John Ruiz in his seventh pro fight. Defeats to the likes of Mike Tyson and Vitali Klitschko are also nothing to be ashamed of.

But it’s the wins we’re here to talk about, specifically the sixth-round TKO of Garry Delaney that netted him the famous British belt. Francis defended the belt three times, beating quality men in Danny Williams, Pele Reid and Scott Welch. So much more than a trending 15 minute celebrity, Francis also held the Commonwealth heavyweight championship in a memorable career.

Tyson Fury

No round-up of the history of the British heavyweight title would be complete without ‘The Gypsy King’. The current WBC, The Ring and lineal heavyweight champion beat Derek Chisora for the title in 2011 in a meeting of two men who would go on to have great careers.

Fury would enjoy another brief reign with the belt two years later when he defeated the same fighter to lift his second British title. While he vacated the belt on both occasions, few British champions have gone on to have the sort of career Tyson Fury has.

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