By: Oliver McManus
Boxing Befuddlements is a new feature on Boxing Insider as we take a look at some of the anomalous extremities of the boxing world. For this, the first part, we discover some of the heaviest boxers to have ever stepped into the ring.
An obvious starting point to this exploration is with, Russian behemoth, Nikolay Valuev who officially tipped the scales over the 300lb mark on 47 occasions over the course of a 16 year career. Debuting at the age of 20, in October 1993, the heavyweight emerged as a relative road warrior throughout his early years; his first ten fights saw him encompass Germany, Russia, Australia, England, Japan and America.
In his 13th contest as a professional Valuev would weigh in at his career heaviest, all of 158kg (348lbs in traditional currency). His opponent, Alarim Usyal, weighed in at 72 kilos later and was, perhaps predictably, flattened in the second round. Future heavyweight world champion Vitali Klitschko would also fight on that show, recording a sixth round stoppage victory.
The Russian’s career only began to bounce into any sort of tangible rhythm with the turn of the new millenium. Crowned as the PABA heavyweight champion, Valuev would defeat Taras Bidenko (at the time in his third pro fight) and began to build some stability. Settling in Germany, in 2003, would be the catalyst for success as Valuev targeted getting himself in a position to fight for the WBA belt.
By the time such an occasion came about, the Russian had built an impregnable forty-four fight winning streak, albeit without much in way of a stiff challenge. Guided by Wilfried Sauerland for the latter part of his career, Valuev claimed the WBA championship with a controversial majority decision over, ageing, John Ruiz. At 147kg (324lbs) Valuev had secured his place as the heaviest heavyweight champion of all time. Subsequent defences came against, equally questionable, Owen Beck, Monte Barrett and Jameel McCline before Ruslan Chagaev defeated the Russian.
Having reclaimed a version of the title he would bow out with a less than glamorous, for either fighter, points loss to David Haye in 2009. The original Beast from the East had already defeated the odds having suffered with acromegaly from an early age – hence his distinctive wide-jawed look. The heaviest champion the sport has ever known but, don’t be fooled, by no means the heaviest man to step foot in a boxing ring.
Wade Bruins can lay claim to that particular honour with the Illinois resident crashing onto the scales at a gigantic 249.5kg (550lbs) for his only professional contest. The 18 year old, yes 18, had his only fight so far on February 2nd this year when he took on Alfredo Cervantes in Davenport, Iowa.
Cervantes, himself 46, had built up a record of 2-4-1 before taking on this particular bout but, bizarrely, his last fight had come just 36 days before Bruins was even born. You really couldn’t make this story up. Annoyingly there is very little information available about Bruins despite my best efforts to dig some up.
The fight itself was quite a laid back affair, fought in the spirit of an exhibition contest, with Cervantes punching upwards in a relaxed fashion. Bruins, the significantly taller man, resembled a less-muscular Eddie Hall (World Strongest Man, 2017) and possessed a quite spectacular chinstrap of a beard.
Indeed the contest was to raise awareness and money for brain cancer with Cervantes’ wife having been diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. A worthy cause that provided a surreal four rounds of boxing.
If we begin to add some rules into this, in an attempt to avoid flukes, and stipulate that the boxers in question must have had more than one professional fight then Frank Finnegan is the man in pole position.
Born in Elkton, Maryland in 1966 it was until Finnegan was 34 years old that he made his professional debut. Though his debut weight is officially unrecorded, Ken Hissner reported him as 210.5kg (464lbs) – 91kg (200lbs) heavier than his opponent, Josh Waters. Finnegan recorded a second round stoppage of Waters, four years the older man.
The Animal , an appropriate nickname, would find himself having to go the distance in his next fight, a rematch with Waters, in a contest that was surely a test of his stamina as much as anything. Joking aside, Finnegan’s short career came to an abrupt end less than four months after it all began.
A lonely Tuesday evening in a now-abandoned Kahunaville Night Club – a venue that had seen Bob Dylan, Green Day and Hall and Oates pass through their doors – housed a mere splattering of people as Finnegan edged his way past, debutant, Brian Aro. A majority decision over four rounds with Finnegan weighing in at a career-high 211kg (465lbs).
He retired thereafter in a bid to shed some of that weight although no-one is sure just how he fared with that mission – Finnegan opted to step away from his fifteen minutes of fame. Aged 49 he passed away, on January 21st 2016, having suffered from an apparent heart attack.
Eric Esch is a name etched, or should I say esched, in the memory of many a fight fan having made his mark across a plethora of combat sports. A kickboxer and mixed martial artist between 2003 and 2011, Butterbean , as he is known in legacy, had 91 professional boxing contest with 77 victories – 58 of those coming by way of knockout.
Regularly weighing in between 136kg (300lbs) and 145kg (320lbs), Esch’s weight ballooned as he reached the tail end of his career, his stature was always imposing despite being just 5ft 11 inches. Never with any misconceptions as to his ability, boxing was more about the love and enjoyment as opposed to achieving materialistic glory – the affection afforded to him is one that resonated across the world.
The majority of his contests took place over the course of four rounds, aside from when Esch was brought in as an “away opponent”, and entertainment was always guaranteed with Butterbean in the ring. Perhaps the oddest honour of his career came when he took on, former world champion, Larry Holmes in 2002 – Holmes, 53 at the time, was spuriously knocked down by Esch but was a comfortable victor.
My personal favourite double-heavy heavyweight, however, “Big G” Gabe Brown . The Pensacola heavyweight, who gave as good as he got in a career full of twists and turns, tipped the scales at 166.5kg (367lbs) for his first fight against Saul Montana. Lasting all of 175 seconds, Brown dropped Montana before succumbing to the power of La Cobra , himself.
This brings us nicely to the conclusion of Boxing Insider’s first ‘boxing beffudlements’, a new series designed to provide some light-reading. It really is quite a crazy sport but, as you’ve seen, it is a sport for anyone. Wade Bruin is, as it stands, the heaviest boxer of all time and it looks like he’ll take some beating – well, on the scales anyway.
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