The History of the Heavyweight Championship presented by Steve Bunce

Follow the links below as the legend that is Steve Bunce guides you through the decade of champions. All the biggest fights, the drama inside and outside the ring, the Fight of the Century, the Rumble in the Jungle, the 70s had it all.


At the start of 1970 Muhammad Ali was still in boxing exile, Joe Frazier was heavyweight champion of the world and he shared that title with a nice guy named Jimmy Ellis. The Heavyweight Championship of the World was in turmoil: the King was gone, the two champions were getting mixed reviews, and both needed a big fight or two.

Episode 1: 1970 – Click to listen


Joe Frazier was the unbeaten World Heavyweight Champion and Muhammad Ali was the unbeaten former World Heavyweight Champion. It was a unique fight, the world of sport demanded it – the boxing world needed it. The two boxers would make a guarantee of $2.5 million each. Never had a purse in the old game been anywhere near that excessive total.

Episode 2: 1971 – Click to listen


Frazier had vanished. In 1971, he had beaten Muhammad Ali in the Fight of the Century: dropping the former champion in the 15th and final round to confirm the win. It was a truly great night, a magical fight in Madison Square Garden in front of a sold-out crowd of 20,000 and a watching world. But where was he now?

Episode 3: 1972 – Click to listen


It was called the Sunshine Showdown and it took place in January 1973 at the National Stadium in Independence Park in Kingston, Jamaica. 36,000 people came out for the massacre – nobody in the fight game could believe what they saw in the ring.

Episode 4: 1973 – Click to listen


It was a year of quite ridiculous extremes in fights for the heavyweight championship of the world – there were exotic stops in Venezuela and Zaire – and the world watched a very special fight in late October, one that nobody will ever forget: the Rumble in the Jungle.

Episode 5: 1974 – Click to listen


What a year: Muhammad Ali was the world heavyweight champion and he made four defences. Every time he got in the ring there was a story: some mayhem, something funny, something absurd, something heartbreaking… always some drama. And there was a fight known then (and now) as The Thrilla in Manila. One that nobody will ever forget.

Episode 6: 1975 – Click to listen


When 1976 started, there had been murmurs of discontent about Muhammad Ali. People were talking about him quitting, men and women in the Ali business and onlookers had the same opinion: the end was surely getting closer. Ali would have to soon leave the sport he owned. Or that was the thinking.

Episode 7: 1976 – Click to listen


1977 was a year of more demons, epiphanies, more decay, more denial, so many crazy fights and nights. Muhammad Ali was still the champion, he made two defences but men in high boxing places were plotting his end: scheming to put in place a multi-title future that would forever dilute the heavyweight championship of the world.

Episode 8: 1977 – Click to listen


In 1978 the heavyweight boxing landscape changed forever. The old, the young, the obscure, the fatal dreamers and the relentless schemers all came together to make it unforgettable. The rumours from 1977 were true: Muhammad Ali would defend his world heavyweight championship against Leon Spinks: a man who had won just six of his seven fights.

Episode 9: 1978 – Click to listen


It was the first year since 1959 that neither Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier or George Foreman had stepped into the professional boxing ring. Officially, Ali was still the WBA heavyweight champion in January of the year – he had won that piece of jewellery when he performed his last act of boxing magic to bamboozled Leon Spinks and get revenge the previous September. Ali had the belt, one of the two available, but nobody expected to see him back in a ring – any ring – anytime soon. His boxing life had drained him.

Episode 10: 1979 – Click to listen