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The Best British Light-Heavyweight Boxers Of All-Time

Ahead of Joshua Buatsi and Dan Azeez's hotly-anticipated final eliminator light-heavyweight clash in October, we take a look back at some of the best British boxers in history in this weight class.

On 21 October, one of Joshua Buatsi and Dan Azeez will take a step closer to turning their dream of becoming a world champion into a reality, as they face off in a final eliminator for the WBA light-heavyweight title, currently in the possession of Dmitry Bivol.

The winner will believe themselves to be the best 175-pounder in Britain, although Anthony Yarde would likely disagree, and will receive the opportunity to become one the greats of the division from these shores by defeating Bivol.

If either man can dethrone the Russian, they will write the latest chapter of the long and storied history of fighters from the United Kingdom in the weight class.

Bob Fitzsimmons

In November 1903, Bob Fitzsimmons made history by becoming the first three-weight world champion, defeating George Gardner to win the light-heavyweight strap, having previously been a champion at middleweight and heavyweight. 

While Fitzsimmons ranks amongst the best English boxers of all time, the majority of his notable wins came at other weights.

Len Harvey

While significant jumps up and down in weight were more common in years gone by, Len Harvey’s feats remain extraordinary. 

The Cornwall native fought in every division from flyweight to heavyweight, but his best form came at light-heavyweight, where he won the British and Commonwealth titles. 

In November 1936, he faced John Henry Lewis for the light-heavyweight world title. However, Harvey was in decline at this stage in his career and lost via decision. 

While Harvey’s record is disputed, Boxrec lists it as 122-14-10 (57 KOs).

Jock McAvoy

Another man to unsuccessfully challenge John Henry Lewis for world honours was Jock McAvoy.

With such a name, you many assume McAvoy was Scottish, but in fact, he was Lancashire born and bred. He chose the pseudonym in an attempt to hide his profession from his mother.

McAvoy and Harvey fought four times, with the Cornwall fighter coming out on top on three occasions. Like his great rival, McAvoy too held the British and Commonwealth straps.

Freddie Mills

Freddie Mills holds wins over both Harvey and McAvoy, and managed to go one better than the aforementioned pair by winning the world title. 

Having previously won the British, Commonwealth and European straps, the Bournemouth man’s first world title tilt came in May 1946, against Gus Lesnevich. 

The American floored Mills four times en route to a 10th round stoppage win. Two years later, ‘Fearless Freddie’ received a shot at redemption in the form of a rematch with Lesnevich. 

At the second attempt, Mills was a world champion, defeating his rival by decision. 

Mills lost the belt in his first defence, against Joey Maxim. While not the most technically gifted fighter, what Mills lacked in finesse, he made up for in ferocity.

Chic Calderwood

During the 1960s, Chic Calderwood established himself as the best light-heavyweight Scotland has ever produced. Calderwood too won British and Commonwealth titles. 

The Scot holds a decision victory over Willie Pastrano, who went on to win the WBA and WBC belts. 

Calderwood finally received a world title shot in his final bout, as he faced Jose Torres, in Puerto Rico, but was stopped in the second round. 

With the exception of Ken Buchanan, those from north of the border do no tend to fare well in tropical heat.

Chris Finnegan

In 1968, bricklayer Chris Finnegan won middleweight gold at the Mexico Olympics. 

Afterwards, it took several glasses of water and four pints of beer for the Englishman to produce enough urine for his anti-doping sample!

Finnegan began his professional career at 160lbs, but had his greatest success at light-heavyweight, where he captured British, Commonwealth and European straps. 

Finnegan’s form earned him a world title opportunity against the great Bob Foster. 

The Englishman was not expected to put up much of a challenge, but he surprised many observers by pushing Foster to the limit. 

Eventually, the American prevailed in the 14th round, but the fight was widely recognised as the best of 1972.

John Conteh

In May 1973, there was a changing of the guard domestically, as Finnegan lost to John Conteh with the British, Commonwealth and European titles at stake. 

A rematch a year later once again resulted in the Liverpudlian being victorious.

Conteh became a world champion five months later when he defeated Jorge Ahumada for the WBC title. 

The Argentine had drawn with Bob Foster earlier that year with the WBA and WBC belts on the line. The fight was ruled a draw, but many believed the challenger had done enough. Foster subsequently retired causing the belts to become vacant.

In the following years, Conteh’s life unravelled: there was litigation against the men that had led him to glory, a broken hand and too much alcohol. Despite this, Conteh racked up four successful defences, including an impressive victory over Yaqui Lopez.

Conteh was stripped of his belt in May 1977 when he failed to defend his title against Miguel Angel Cuello. 

Conteh’s attempts to reach the summit of the sport once more ultimately proved unsuccessful. 

First, he travelled behind the Iron Curtain to challenge Mate Parlov, at the home of Red Star Belgrade. Parlov was a decorated amateur who had won European, World and Olympic gold in the unpaid ranks. 

The odds were against the Englishman, but he almost pulled of the shock, losing by the slimmest of margins on the scorecards.

The following year, Conteh received another crack at the WBC belt, now in the hands of Matthew Saad Muhammad. 

The fight was bloody and brutal, but two knockdowns in round fourteen cost Conteh the fight. A rematch saw ‘Miracle Matthew’ halt the Brit in the fourth frame.

For all Conteh achieved, there is a lingering sense he could have done more, had his personal life been less turbulent. 

Dennis Andries

Britain went almost a decade without a light-heavyweight world champion, until Dennis Andries beat JB Williamson by split decision to claim the WBC strap, in a fight that never caught fire.

A successful defence against Tony Sibson followed, before the Guyana-born Brit lost his belt to the legendary Thomas Hearns.

‘The Hackney Rock’ would go onto become a three-time world champion, during which time he engaged in a thrilling trilogy with Jeff Harding.

Clinton Woods

Many men on this list have faced daunting opponents when challenging for world titles, but Clinton Woods had perhaps the hardest task when he took on Roy Jones Jr, in 2002. 

'Superman’ was at the peak of his powers at the time and his combination of instinct and athleticism was too much for the former British, Commonwealth and European champion.

The following year, Woods was handed a second chance when he fought Glen Johnson for the vacant IBF strap, but after 12 rounds, the judges were unable to split them. 

Three months later, Johnson won a unanimous decision in another close bout.

It was third time lucky for the Sheffield fighter as he stopped Rico Hoye in the fifth frame to claim the IBF belt. Four defences followed, including a win over old foe Glen Johnson, before losing his title to Antonio Tarver.

Joe Calzaghe

After 10 years as super-middleweight champion, Joe Calzaghe moved up to 175lbs to take on Bernard Hopkins, in 2008, with the Ring Magazine title on the line.

The Welshman found himself on the canvas inside the opening three minutes, but recovered to secure a split decision win. The victory aged well as Hopkins would go on to not only win another belt but two, in the following years.

While Calzaghe’s success over Hopkins has become more impressive over the years, the same cannot be said for his other win at light-heavyweight. 

Seven months after capturing the Ring Magazine title, Calzaghe defended it against Roy Jones Jr. Sadly, the American was a spent force at this stage, even though he did score a knockdown in the first round. Calzaghe overcame the setback to win widely on the cards.

Afterwards, Calzaghe retired undefeated.

Nathan Cleverly

In 2011, another Welshman won a 175lbs world title. Nathan Cleverly was originally the WBO ‘Interim’ holder but was upgrade to champion after the sanctioning body stripped Jurgen Braehmer of the belt, after a proposed fight between the pair fell through repeatedly.

‘Clev’ made five defences of his belt, the pick of the bunch coming against domestic rival Tony Bellew. His reign ended abruptly as he was stopped in the fourth round of his fight with Sergey Kovalev.

After an ill-fated move to cruiserweight, Cleverly returned to light-heavyweight. The Wales native produced a valiant display in defeat to Andrzej Fonfara. 

While it may not have been the result he wanted, the fight was a classic, as the pair broke the record for most punches thrown in a 175lbs bout.

In 2016, Cleverly finally got the opportunity to take on Jurgen Braehmer. Cleverly was too good on the night and stopped the German in round six, to win the WBA ‘Regular’ belt.

Will any of the current crop - such as Joshua Buatsi or Dan Azeez - be able to etch their names into the annals of history? Only time will tell.

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