The Biggest Heavyweight Fight on Each Continent

Anthony Joshua’s bout with Francis Ngannou on Friday marks the latest installment in heavyweight boxing’s love affair with the glitz and cash of Saudi Arabia. It also underlines big-time heavyweight boxing’s status as the most global of pugilistic events.

Every continent on Earth, outside of Antarctica, has hosted major heavyweight bouts. Some, granted, can boast more than others: the pickings in South America are considerably slimmer than in the continent to the north, for example. It has been a century since Australia hosted a truly notable heavyweight contest, but its biggest such bout has a claim to be, in many ways, the single most significant fight the division has ever seen. The United States – for that matter, the city of New York – has showcased a greater number of mammoth contests than most of the rest of the planet combined.

But for the purposes of this article, every continent is on equal footing. Each one has a clash of the titans to call its own. Here, in chronological order, is one man’s list of the biggest heavyweight contest to take place on each continental landmass:

Australia

December 26, 1908

Sydney Stadium, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Jack Johnson W14 Tommy Burns

After years of being blatantly ducked, Jack Johnson finally got his shot at the heavyweight title, but he had to go to Australia to secure it. At just 5-foot-7, Canada’s Tommy Burns was dwarfed by the “Galveston Giant,” and the extent of the mismatch soon became clear.

Johnson dropped Burns in the first and toyed with him thereafter, intentionally prolonging the punishment as Burns flung racial taunts at him. After 14 rounds of one-sided battering, the police stepped into the ring to halt the massacre, the referee awarded the contest to Johnson on points and the world had its first black heavyweight champion.

North America

June 22, 1938

Yankee Stadium, New York, NY, USA

Joe Louis KO1 Max Schmeling

There are plenty of contenders from North America, and in the end it came down to a coin flip between this and the first meeting between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. This one just wins out for its truly global significance.

In 1936, Joe Louis was an undefeated young contender who was widely expected to become the first African-American since Johnson to annex the crown. But Max Schmeling had noted Louis’ habit of bringing back his left hand low after throwing a jab, and used it to land overhand right after overhand right, stopping Louis in the 12th.

Two years later, the world was on the brink of global conflagration; fairly or unfairly, Germany’s Schmeling was seen as a representative of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime, and white and black America was united in its support for Louis.

This time, the “Brown Bomber” left no doubt, blasting Schmeling to defeat inside the opening round and scoring a symbolic win against the gathering Nazi forces.

South America

March 26, 1974

Poliedro de Caracas, Caracas, Venezuela

George Foreman KO 2 Ken Norton

The second and final successful defense of George Foreman’s first reign saw him take on the hard-hitting Ken Norton, who was fresh off splitting a pair of bouts with Ali.

While the ex-Marine gave “The Greatest” fits, he was no match for the champion, who bashed him to the canvas three times in the second round before referee Jimmy Rondeau halted the contest with exactly two minutes elapsed in the frame.

Foreman had a tougher battle with Venezuelan authorities, who wouldn’t allow him to leave the country until he had paid $150,000 in taxes.

Africa

October 30, 1974

20th of May Stadium, Kinshasa, Zaire

Muhammad Ali KO 8 George Foreman

Foreman’s next defense saw him take on former champ Ali in Zaire. It was a miserable experience for the defending champion. The locals became enamored of Ali, not least because Foreman’s German shepherd dogs evoked painful memories of the country’s Belgian colonists, evicted only 12 years previously.

Foreman then suffered a cut in sparring that forced a postponement of the originally scheduled Sept. 25 date. And when the bell finally rang to start the fight, Ali confused and exhausted his opponent with his “Rope-a-Dope” tactics, before nailing him with a combination of punches off the ropes in the eighth to become just the second man in history to regain the heavyweight championship.

The subject of subsequent songs, a documentary and the acclaimed Norman Mailer book “The Fight,” the “Rumble in the Jungle” remains one of the most iconic fights of all time.

Asia

October 1, 1975

Aranata Coliseum, Quezon City, Philippines

Muhamad Ali TKO 14 Joe Frazier

The third and most grueling of the epic trilogy between Ali and Frazier, the “Thrilla in Manila,” should probably have been the final fight for both men, such was the punishment each dished out and absorbed.

With the fight being held at 10 a.m. to accommodate global time zones, conditions inside the aluminum-roofed arena were stifling; Frazier estimated that the temperature was 120 degrees F° in the ring come fight time.

Ali started brightly before Frazier began reeling him in with left hooks and body punches after the third round. At the end of round nine, a tired Ali walked to his corner and said, “Man, this is the closest I’ve ever been to dying.” Thereafter, however, he found a second wind and regained the initiative as Frazier slowly began to wilt. Rounds 12, 13 and 14 were big rounds for the champion, as he landed repeatedly and closed Frazier’s eyes.

Finally, at the end of the 14th, Frazier’s trainer, Eddie Futch, withdrew his man from the contest.

“It’s all over,” Futch said. “No one will forget what you did here today.”

Europe

April 29, 2017

Wembley Stadium, London, England

Anthony Joshua KO11 Wladimir Klitschko

With apologies to the likes of Henry Cooper and Lennox Lewis, this meeting of former champion Wladimir Klitschko and reigning IBF titlist Anthony Joshua was as big as the old continent has seen.

Wembley was packed with 90,000 fans to witness hometown hero Joshua overcome the Ukrainian veteran in the “Ring Magazine” Fight of the Year.

After a quiet start, the fight exploded into life when Joshua dropped Klitschko in the fifth, only for the veteran to wobble the youngster almost immediately afterward and floor him in turn in the sixth.

Klitschko failed to press his advantage, however, and in the 11th Joshua struck again, dropping Klitschko twice and stopping him with a barrage of punches against the ropes.

(With thanks to Lee Groves)