The heavyweight division in boxing is the only weight class where size is a factor when analyzing boxers in the division. All other weight classes have both a maximum and a minimum; and boxers in the division must adhere to the limits. In the heavyweight division, technically, there are no limits at the top end of the scale, if participants meet or exceed the minimum of 200-pounds.
While extreme, theoretically, a 300-pound fighter could face off against a 200-pound opponent and be within the rules. An effort was made at one point to create a “super heavyweight division”, but the possibility never become an accepted reality across the sport’s spectrum.
Historically, the heavyweight division weight guidelines have been altered throughout the sport’s existence. In 1738, a “heavyweight” could weigh in at 160-plus pounds. In 1920, the minimum weight for the division became 175 pounds, followed by the WBC eventually raising the heavyweight range to 190 or more pounds. Finally, the major ruling bodies established today’s heavyweight range, starting at 200-pounds minimum, with no weight cap.
How Big a Factor is Weight (No Pun Intended)
Proponents of today’s heavyweight division frequently cite the size differential between the current heavyweights as a factor “old fighters” simply couldn’t overcome if, for example, fighters from the ‘ 70’s faced today’s behemoths. Understandably, new fans of the sport would scoff at the thought of “tiny” Rocky Marciano, at 5’ 10”, typically around 190 pounds, with a miniscule 68” reach being competitive with Tyson Fury at 6’ 9”, 245, with a wingspan of 85”. Fury would tower over Marciano by almost a full foot, outweigh him by 55 pounds (or even 25 if Marciano came in ‘heavy’ at 220), and outreach him by a whopping 17 inches. Add to the size differential, the fact that Tyson Fury is a talented switch-hitter and it’s hard to see Marciano being favored in a match against Fury.
But what about Marciano (or the 5’ 10” Mike Tyson, with a 72” reach and weighing in at 215?) vs. Oleksandr Usyk? Or Andy Ruiz? Or Derek Chisora? If all the fighters named were in their prime, can you see Usyk, Ruiz, or Chisora beating either Marciano or Tyson two out of three times, for example?
Styles Make Fights
You’ll get little argument disputing the boxing standard “styles make fights”. It isn’t hard to imagine a small heavyweight with the power, speed, and bobbing and weaving defense of Mike Tyson in his prime using the cumbersome weight of Ruiz, Dillian Whyte, Derek Chisora, or Luis Ortiz to his advantage. Despite the size of Ruiz and company, it’s hard to accept them overpowering Tyson or absorbing Tyson’s hand speed and power over 12-rounds. Like anything else, it’s possible but not probable.
On the other hand, the pure power of Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder would give either Marciano or Tyson pause, due to the size differential, especially with the disparity in reach being so pronounced. But what about Joshua or Wilder or even Fury against Ernie Terrell? Styles make fights and Terrell was an underrated talent who stood 6’ 6”, had an 82” reach, and could easily make 215 pounds, if not 220.
Terrell’s height puts him eye-to-eye with Wilder and Josha and gives Terrell a 4-inch height advantage, and an 8” reach advantage against Derek Chisora. The weight difference of at least 20-pounds in favor of Chisora sounds formable but is more likely a detriment against a fighter with the build and fundamentally sound skills of Ernie Terrell. Terrell would find himself facing a similar situation if matched against Andy Ruiz and Oleksandr Usyk.
Yet Terrell lost convincingly against the “smaller” Muhammad Ali, lost a spilt decision against a 6’ 0” prime Wayne Bethea, and was TKOd by powerful Cleveland Williams when Williams was at his best. If a prime Ali and prime Williams could dominate Terrell, it stands to reason that neither Ali nor Williams would be overmatched by a Ruiz, Kubrat Pulev, Dillian Whyte, or Luis Ortiz. But keeping with the “theme” of styles making fights, big power guys like Joshua and Wilder and even Tyson Fury would probably be too much for Cleveland Williams and his less-than-granite chin, though Ali would pose problems with his movement, hand speed and ring intelligence.