Fury, Lewis, Hatton: Britain's greatest champions of the last 30 years (Part 1)

The first of two parts analyses two unified heavyweight champions and one of UK's most popular fighters of all-time.

As we close out another exciting and brilliant year for British boxing, we've decided to take a look back at some of our greatest fighters over the past thirty-odd years.

From Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn in the '90s to Tyson Fury and Josh Taylor today, Britain has been blessed with some extraordinary and truly engaging fighting talents in recent decades.

With a wealth of talent to choose from, it's nigh on impossible to formulate a list such as this and not divide opinion, but with that being said, here are some of Planet Sports favourite fighters to emerge from the British isles since 1990.

Lennox Lewis

Lennox Lewis

The last undisputed heavyweight champion, Lennox Lewis, might not have achieved the level of popularity that some of the other fighters on this list enjoyed, but his level of achievement ensures his place as one of the finest boxers to emerge from these shores.

Born to Jamaican parents in London before a move to Canada at the age of 12, Lewis' perceived lack of Britishness on this side of the pond meant he would never enjoy the same level of adulation or love afforded to fellow heavyweight Brit, Frank Bruno.

Yet, Stateside, Lewis was also disregarded and under-rated by an American audience who had plenty of home heavyweight favourites like Bowe, Holyfield and Tyson to mention just three to get behind.

An Olympic Gold medal winner for Canada, Lewis was seldom the crowd-favourite but, despite the lack of love, would end his career as one of, if not the greatest British fighter of all time.

A three-time and undisputed heavyweight champion, Lewis' career was rarely straightforward. Having been handed his first world title in 1993 when Riddick Bowe refused to defend his WBC strap, Lewis would make three successful defences of that title before a shock second-round stoppage loss to Oliver McCall seemed to affirm his doubters.

Having regained the title in bizarre circumstances against a mentally broken McCall in a subsequent rematch two years later, Lewis had yet to truly foster the support or indeed the respect of a boxing public that considered the Brit little more than a paper champion.

However, a sensational first-round stoppage of a then feared Andrew Golota silenced at least a portion of his critics before a career-defining pair of fights with legendary IBF and WBA champion Evander Holyfield would truly enhance the Londoners fighting legacy.

Following a hotly disputed draw in New York, Lewis would claim a deserved unanimous decision victory in Las Vegas and, with it, became the first Brit to become an undisputed heavyweight champion in the modern era.

Still, there would be more drama and glory to come. Lewis would again suffer a shock 5th round KO loss, this time at the hands of the unheralded Hasim Rahman in South Africa.

Yet once again, The Lion would show his true colours, regaining his titles just six months later with a devastating one-two combination that must surely rank as one of the best and most satisfying knock-out victories in heavyweight world title fights in recent memory.

Then 36 and approaching the end of his career, the great Brit would add further victories over future Hall of Famers Mike Tyson and Vitali Klitschko

Having vested everyman to face him inside the ring, Lewis retired as the dominant heavyweight of a brilliant era of big men. With a 41-2-1 record, the affable Brit was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2009.

While never reaching the popularity of others, Lewis achievements remain unparalleled amongst his British contemporaries and his place as the country's finest fighter of the modern era is hard to dispute.

Tyson Fury

Tyson Fury Deontay Wilder

Our only active fighter on the list, Tyson Fury's status as one of Britain's greatest, has surely been cemented by his recent trilogy series with Deontay Wilder.

Born prematurely and named after the legendary Mike Tyson, Fury's path to greatness might have seemed almost pre-ordained, but his journey to the top of the sport has been anything but seamless.

Standing 6ft 9", a true giant of a man, Fury continues to divide opinion. A controversial and outspoken character, the Manchester-born heavyweight has achieved far more than many would ever have expected and despite several bumps in the road remains unbeaten after 32 fights.

Having worked his way into a title shot with long-term ruler Wladimir Klitschko, Fury boxed his way to a superb victory on German soil as he claimed the WBA (Super), IBF, WBO, IBO, and The Ring heavyweight titles back in 2015.

However, having climbed his own personal Everest, Fury's fall from grace would be just as dramatic with drug and mental health problems.

Following an extended three year period outside of the ring, Fury's weight had ballooned to well over 350lbs. Months of drug abuse and alcoholism had taken an emotional and physical toll that left him on the brink of self-destruction. The cold reality of his desperation left the 27-year-old on the verge of suicide, as later described in his wonderfully candid sit-down with podcast host Joe Rogan.

Having finally enjoyed a moment of clarity amidst the surroundings of a Halloween night in Morecambe, Fury would hit the road and vowed to regain the titles he had not yet surrendered inside the hallowed squared circle.

Shedding well over 100lbs in a little under a year, and spurred on by the taunts of unbeaten knockout star Deontay Wilder, Fury would make a sensational return to the sport as he claimed a remarkable draw with WBC ruler Wilder in the first of their trilogy series in a bout that would never be forgotten by those fortunate enough to be in attendance on that night.

In a resurrection more akin to WWE than WBC, Fury's rise to beat the count in the 12th and final round is, even now, a barely believable piece of moments in boxing. Enshrined in the glory of that moment, Fury had won over the collective heart and mind of the British sporting public with gallantry so extraordinary that it seemed he might well be made of something other than blood and bones.

Having boxed to near perfection but only been awarded a draw, Fury would turn aggressor in the rematch, dominating and exposing the out skilled American with a one-sided beat down that had the Bomb Squad reaching for the towel midway through the eighth stanza.

While a showdown with Anthony Joshua has yet to materialise, a third fight with Deontay Wilder might not have been what the public wanted, but boy did it deliver in the drama department.

Having tasted the canvas twice in their first fight, Fury would again fall in a brilliant back and forth contest that has to go down as one of the best heavyweight fights of the modern era.

Tasting Wilder´s power on several occasions, the Gypsy King once again displayed his enormous heart and extraordinary levels of composure in rising twice to stop the hard-hitting Alabama slugger in the eleventh round of a brilliantly brutal boxing slugfest.

A career yet to be completed, Fury has already ensured his position as one of Britain's all-time greats and should he prove triumphant in likely bouts with Oleksander Usyk and Anthony Joshua - and remain undefeated until the end of his career - Lennox Lewis' position as the greatest heavyweight to emerge from these shores would surely be under threat.

Ricky Hatton

Ricky Hatton

If boxing was a popularity contest, Ricky Hatton would surely be the undisputed champion of British fighting history.

Indeed, perhaps only Frank Bruno and Henry Cooper can rival the Manchester-born slugger in terms of the levels of love and respect afforded by the British public.

Having earned a reputation for downing pints as readily as his opponents inside the ring, Hatton was a genuine man of the people. No matter where he fought, the Hitman's fans would follow in their thousands, supporting their man in both the glory and the despair.

A remarkable rise from British level ranks, Hatton was never the most skilful. But boy could he hit. The "Hitman" moniker borrowed from the great Thomas Hearns rightfully became his own.

Unbeaten for the first ten years of his career, Hatton shocked the boxing world when he stopped the great Kostya Tszyu in 2005 to claim the IBF and The Ring light welterweight titles. A 4/1 underdog, Hatton had been given little chance going into the bout but proved far too strong for an ageing but still outstanding Tszyu.

Hatton would add the IBF and vacant IBO light welterweight titles to a growing resume with a fine win over Juan Urango in 2007 and, having dominated the 140lb weight class, would step up to face the unbeaten great, Floyd Mayweather Jr at welterweight.

Las Vegas would host the defining bout of Hatton's career, and with a travelling band of over 30,000 supporters, Sin City more closely resembled something akin to Blackpool in what would prove an extraordinary sporting occasion in the Nevada desert.

Sadly for Hatton, he didn't get the result he wanted, succumbing to a wonderfully placed counter punch that sent the Manchester man spinning into the turnbuckle and on his way to a 10th round stoppage.

A return to the 140lb division to defend his IBO and The Ring light welterweight titles against Paulie Malignaggi added further gloss to an already distinguished career before a painfully one-sided second round KO loss at the hands of Manny Pacquiao ended Hatton's reign as champion in the light welterweight ranks.

Ricky Hatton

A brilliantly popular and hard-hitting champion, Hatton was as tough as they come. His ability to take a punch while riding the sling-shots of his naysayers only enhanced his reputation among his faithful support.

Adored to the end, Hatton would attempt a brief comeback following a three and a half year lay-off from the sport, but a second career stoppage against the relatively unknown Vyacheslav Senchenko in 2012 ended any hopes of a return to the top of the game.

Blessed with a hardened chin and a sense of humour to match, Hatton remains a true favourite amongst fight fans both at home and across the globe. Humble and brave, there was indeed, only one Ricky Hatton.

A fighting man's fighter, Hatton fully deserves his place in the British fighting Hall of Fame.

Read more: What happened to the former PE teacher who beat Manny Pacquiao?

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