These boxers fought boxing’s biggest names in Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Vitali Klitschko and Deontay Wilder – but none of them won, because they are the worst heavyweight world title challengers ever.
With all due respect to anyone brave enough to step in a boxing ring, there have been plenty of dire heavyweight champions in recent years. So you can only imagine the standard of the men who barely deserved to challenge (and failed when they did).
The four-belt era does not help, but let’s be clear that we’re ignoring the mickey mouse IBO, WBU, WBF and even early-era WBO, when it was not recognised at heavyweight level. Yet each of these boxers fought for a genuine version of the heavyweight crown – and we’re all still trying to work out why.
10. Audley Harrison
Let’s give the man cruelly dubbed ‘Fraudley’ and ‘A-farce’ credit: his 2000 Olympic gold medal helped kick-start Britain’s amateur glory days and he had some fun rivalries at domestic level. But Harrison’s dodgy chin and cautious southpaw style added up to a poor pro heavyweight.
His unlikely WBA title shot came against David Haye in 2010 – and it was bad. Nothing happened for seven minutes until ‘The Hayemaker’ woke up, threw some punches and Harrison was rescued by the ref (who also spared the viewers any more punishment). A-palling.
9. Albert Sosnowski
It wasn’t really the Klitschkos’ fault, as competition was scarce, but the Ukrainian brothers of destruction had a lengthy list of inept title challengers. For every Albert Sosnowski there is also an Alex Leapai, a Ray Austin, a Francesco Pianeta. They were all, and let’s be fair to them, terrible.
‘I’ll take the blame, I’m scared’ – Fury sarcastic about Joshua fight collapse
‘Suck a d***’ – Tyson Fury hurls insults after being grilled about Derek Chisora fight
Jake Paul says he ‘still wants’ fight with Canelo after Anderson Silva victory
Jake Paul knocks DOWN Anderson Silva and BEATS him by unanimous decision
Fury reveals short term memory loss after trilogy fight victory over Wilder
Jake Paul vs Anderson Silva full judges’ scorecards revealed as YouTube star wins
The only surprise for Poland’s Sosnowski in 2010 is that a boxer who lost to journeyman Zuri Lawrence even got a shot at Vitali Klitschko’s WBC crown. He at least gave it a go, lasting 10 one-sided rounds before being stopped. Sosnowski then returned to his natural habitat of losing in Prizefighters at the York Hall before retiring in 2017.
8. Eric Molina
A new champion is entitled to an easy first defence, but Deontay Wilder looked like he was taking things a bit far with Molina in 2015. A fighter who’d already been stopped in one round by Chris Arreola and Ashanti Jordan was now facing a monstrous KO puncher. Pray for Eric.
However Molina defied expectations, rocking Wilder early and lasting until round nine before he was stopped. That earned him an IBF title fight against Anthony Joshua next year, where he suffered a more predictable KO3. Perhaps the weakest heavyweight to get two world title shots, Molina was last seen being taken out by Alen Babic. A third shot seems unlikely.
7. Jose Roman
The shocking thing about Roman’s title challenge against unbeaten George Foreman in 1973 is that he arguably should have won it. The 5ft 10in Puerto Rican with a 44-7-1 record was out of his depth against Foreman – who had demolished Joe Frazier and was about to KO Ken Norton, but was snacking on Roman inbetween.
However after an angry ‘Big George’ pummelled Roman to the canvas early in round one, he landed a blatant blow with his opponent on the canvas. The challenger’s corner protested but the referee clearly thought the boxing gods would be offended by Roman as champion and the fight restarted, Foreman finished off Jose before the bell.
6. Steffen Tangstad
While Michael Spinks was biding his time waiting to set up a lucrative match with rising star Mike Tyson, he was not about to risk his undefeated record or heavyweight titles against anyone particularly good – but still, Norway’s Tangstad in 1986 was taking things a bit far.
The hairy-chested European champion had some decent past-their-prime names on his record (including Britain’s Joe Bugner) but the red flag was a KO defeat by Anders ‘Who?’ Eklund (who had a 10-2-1 record going in) a year before he met Spinks. ‘The Jinx’ toyed with Tangsted, dropping him three times in four rounds. The Norwegian never fought again.
5. Marvis Frazier
Poor Marvis, whose career became a go-to example of how a father’s gifts do not always translate to the son. ‘Smokin Joe’ trained his boy to 10-0 before rushing him into a 1983 bout with undefeated Ring/lineal champion Larry Holmes in the midst of his long reign. It was a humiliating mismatch, Holmes winding up right hands and landing at will for a first-round KO.
It got even worse the next time Frazier stepped up a level – he lasted 30 seconds with a 20-year-old Mike Tyson (Iron Mike’s fastest ever KO). At least Marvis shared the ring with two great heavyweight champs. Unfortunately, he didn’t hear the bell to end round one either time.
4. Okello Peter
Russia’s Oleg Maskaev was a forgettable alphabet world titlist so it’s safe to say that his 2006 defence against Uganda’s Okello Peter in Moscow was not exactly Ali-Frazier. Peter had an 18-4 record going in, had beaten absolutely nobody you’ve ever heard of, and had lost to Sinan Samil Sam a year earlier.
Hardly an intimidating resume, but at least Peter lasted the 12-round distance with Maskaev before disappearing back to obscurity. Maskaev lost his WBC belt to a far superior African heavyweight, Samuel Peter (no relation to Okello), in his very next fight.
3. Owen Beck
Nicknamed ‘What the Heck?’ Beck – which may be the exact question boxing fans asked when they saw he got a world title shot against lumbering giant Nikolai Valuev in 2006. The undersized Jamaican had lost two back-to-back fights in 2005, so what better prep for facing the 7ft Valuev for the WBA belt?
Valuev wasn’t even a big puncher considering his size, but he still had more than enough to bludgeon Beck around the ring, knocking him down in round two and out in round three. Beck retired with 13 defeats in 2016 but at least he fought for a world title. Somehow.
2. Jean-Pierre Coopman
After the ‘Thrilla in Manilla’, promoters understandably wanted to give Muhummad Ali a soft touch for his next title defence in 1976. Belgium’s Coopman fit the bill, boasting impressive sideburns and nothing else. They even invented a nickname to make him sound more intimidating – ‘The Lion of Flanders’ – but it could not hide his in-ring limits.
Unsurprisingly, a heavyweight who’d lost to someone called Harald Skog couldn’t do much with even an ageing version of ‘The Greatest’. Ali stopped him in five rounds and Coopman eventually retired with 16 career defeats, grateful to have shared a ring with his idol.
1. Pete Rademacher
Rademacher was not actually a bad boxer, winning Olympic gold in 1956. But he undoubtedly had the worst record of any heavyweight world title challenger – because he’d literally never won a professional fight. Yes, the American had the “Conor McGregor pre-Mayweather record” of 0-0 when he boxed Floyd Patterson for the undisputed title in his pro debut.
Pete actually knocked the infamously chinny Patterson down once – but got knocked down seven times himself in response and was stopped in six rounds. He lost his next fight too, extending his record to 0-2, before retiring in 1962 with a 15-7-1 slate. Based on his pro achievements, easily the least deserving world champion challenger of all time.