This is a list of longest reigning heavyweight boxing champions in professional boxing, measured by the boxer's longest reign and career total time as champion (for multiple time champions). It includes their most consecutive successful title defenses as well as their career grand total title wins.
At the beginnings of boxing, the heavyweight division had no weight limit and the category historically has been vaguely defined. In the 19th century, for example, many heavyweight champions weighed 170 pounds (12 st 2 lb, 77 kg) or less (although others weighed 200 pounds). The first heavyweight champion under the Marquess of Queensberry rules was John L. Sullivan, known as "The Boston Strong Boy". He weighed around 200 pounds when in shape and was a bare-knuckle champion. He was defeated by Jim Corbett on September 7, 1892, in 21 rounds. In 1920, the minimum weight for a heavyweight was set at 175 pounds (12 st 7 lb, 79 kg), which today is the light heavyweight division maximum. Since 1980, for most boxing organizations, the maximum weight for a cruiserweight has been 200 pounds. Boxers who weigh 200 pounds and over (14 st 3 lb, 90 kg) are considered heavyweights by the major professional boxing organizations: the International Boxing Federation, the World Boxing Association, the World Boxing Council, and the World Boxing Organization.
Since the 1960s, the heavyweight title has become fractured amongst various sanctioning organizations, and so what was once known as the single "Heavyweight Champion", is now referred to as the "Undisputed Champion" as the one fighter that has defeated all the other titlists. However, there is no officially declared definition of the term, as major boxing organizations refer to all boxers holding at least two world titles in their respective division as Unified champions. Some title reigns are not recognized as official reigns due to long periods of inactivity, legitimacy of title, false billing and promotion. In March 1967, Muhammad Ali was systematically denied a boxing license in every state and stripped of his passport because of his refusal to be inducted into the armed forces. He was stripped of WBC and WBA titles but remained The Ring and lineal boxing champion, despite not having a boxing match until October 1970. In 2005, Ukrainian boxer Vitali Klitschko retired as WBC Champion. Following his retirement, the WBC conferred "champion emeritus" status on Klitschko, and assured him he would become the mandatory challenger if and when he decided to return. On 3 August 2008 the WBC awarded Klitschko a chance to regain his WBC Heavyweight title against then-champion Samuel Peter. Vitali regained the title after Peter asked the bout be stopped after the eighth round.
Champions were recognized by public acclamation. A champion in that era was a fighter who had a notable win over another fighter and kept winning afterward. Retirements or disputed results could lead to a championship being split among several men for periods of time. With only minor exceptions, the heavyweight division remained free from dual title-holders until the 1960s. For an early example, see the 1896 World Heavyweight Championship.
Gradually, the role of recognizing champions in the division evolved into a more formal affair, with public acclamation being supplemented (or in some cases, contradicted) by recognition by one or more athletic commissions, sanctioning organizations, or a combination of them. The most notable examples with respect to the heavyweight division have included:
Below is a list of longest reigning heavyweight champions in boxing measured by the individual's longest reign. The list includes both The Ring and lineal championships. Career total time as champion (for multiple time champions) does not apply.
|Name||Title Reign||Title Recognition||Successful Defenses||Opponents beaten|
|1.||Joe Louis||11 years, 8 months, 8 days||Universal||25||20|
|2.||Wladimir Klitschko||9 years, 7 months and 6 days||IBF (+WBA, WBO, The Ring)||18||17|
|3.||Larry Holmes||7 years, 3 months, 12 days||WBC-to-IBF (+The Ring/Lineal)||19||19|
|4.||Jack Dempsey||7 years, 2 months, 19 days||Universal||5||5|
|5.||John L. Sullivan||7 years, 0 months, 9 days||Universal||5||5|
|6.||Jack Johnson||6 years, 3 months, 10 days||Universal||8||8|
|7.||Muhammad Ali||5 years, 11 months, 9 days||The Ring/Lineal, (+WBA, WBC stripped)||9||9|
|8.||James J. Jeffries||5 years, 11 months, 4 days||Universal||7||6|
|9.||Vitali Klitschko||5 years, 2 months, 4 days||WBC||9||9|
|10.||Joe Frazier||4 years, 10 months, 18 days||NYSAC (+WBA, WBC)||9||9|
|11.||James J. Corbett||4 years, 6 months, 10 days||Universal||1||1|
|12.||Jess Willard||4 years, 2 months, 29 days||Universal||1||1|
|13.||Lennox Lewis||4 years, 2 months, 15 days||WBC (+IBF, WBA stripped, The Ring/Lineal)||9||8|
|14.||Rocky Marciano||3 years, 11 months, 29 days||Universal||6||5|
|15.||Chris Byrd||3 years, 4 months, 8 days||IBF||4||4|
|16.||Mike Tyson||3 years, 2 months, 20 days||WBC (+WBA, IBF, The Ring/Lineal)||9||9|
|17.||Deontay Wilder||3 years, 2 months, 14 days||WBC||7||7|
|18.||George Foreman||3 years, 0 months, 17 days||Lineal (+WBA, IBF stripped)||2||2|
|19.||Evander Holyfield||3 years, 0 months, 4 days||WBA (+IBF)||4||4|
|20.||Tommy Burns||2 years, 10 months, 3 days||Universal||11||9|
|Name||Title reign||Title recognition||Successful defenses|
|N/A||Vitali Klitschko||9 years, 7 months, 22 days||Full WBC-to-WBC Emeritus-to-Full WBC (+The Ring vacated)||11|
|N/A||Muhammad Ali||7 years, 0 months, 11 days||The Ring/+lineal (+WBA, +WBC)||11|
|N/A||James Toney||4 Years, 5 months, 14 days||IBA/IBU||3|
|N/A||Brian Nielsen||3 years, 7 months, 20 days||IBO||5|
As of March 5, 2018. This list includes only major titles, and it does not include lineal championships after 1921.
|Name||Combined reign||Days as champion||Number of reigns||Title recognition||Cumulative title wins||Opponents beaten|
|1.||Wladimir Klitschko||12 years, 0 months, 0 days||4 382||2||IBF, WBA, WBO||25||23|
|2.||Joe Louis||11 years, 8 months, 8 days||4 270||1||NYSAC, NBA||26||21|
|3.||Muhammad Ali||9 years, 5 months, 5 days||3 443||3||NYSAC, WBC, WBA||22||21|
|4.||Lennox Lewis||8 years, 5 months, 13 days||3 086||3||WBC, IBF, WBA||15||15|
|5.||Vitali Klitschko||7 years, 5 months, 28 days||2 735||3||WBO, WBC||15||15|
|6.||Larry Holmes||7 years, 3 months, 12 days||2 661||1||WBC, IBF||20||20|
|7.||Jack Dempsey||7 years, 2 months, 19 days||2 638||1||NYSAC, NBA||6||6|
|8.||John L. Sullivan||7 years, 0 months, 10 days||2 566||1||Universal||5||6|
|9.||Jack Johnson||6 years, 3 months, 11 days||2 292||1||Universal||7||7|
|10.||Evander Holyfield||6 years, 1 month, 1 day||2 223||4||WBA, WBC, IBF||11||10|
|11.||James J. Jeffries||5 years, 11 months, 4 days||2 156||1||Universal||8||6|
|12.||Joe Frazier||4 years, 10 months, 18 days||1 785||1||NYSAC, WBA, WBC||10||10|
|13.||Floyd Patterson||4 years, 10 months, 0 days||1 765||2||NYSAC, NBA||8||7|
|14.||James J. Corbett||4 years, 6 months, 10 days||1 652||1||Universal||2||2|
|15.||Jess Willard||4 years, 2 months, 29 days||1 551||1||Universal||2||2|
|16.||Chris Byrd||3 years, 10 months, 22 days||1 421||2||IBF, WBO||5||5|
|17.||Mike Tyson||3 years, 10 months, 16 days||1 415||2||WBA, WBC, IBF||12||11|
|18.||John Ruiz||3 years, 9 months, 21 days||1 390||2||WBA||4||4|
|19.||Rocky Marciano||3 years, 7 months, 5 days||1 312||1||NYSAC, NBA||7||5|
|20.||Deontay Wilder||3 years, 2 months, 10 days||1 137||1||WBC||8||7|
|Name||Combined reign||Days as champion||Number of reigns||Title recognition||Cumulative title wins|
|N/A||Vitali Klitschko||10 years, 4 months, 29 days||3 802||2||WBO, Full WBC-to-WBC Emeritus-to-Full WBC (+The Ring vacated)||15|
|N/A||Muhammad Ali||10 years, 1 month, 16 days||3 689||3||The Ring/+lineal (+WBA, +WBC)||22|
|Name||Title bout wins|
At the very beginnings, before the establishment of the sanctioning organizations, the title recognition passed through lineage in the fights under Marquess of Queensberry Rules. The champion was informally called "the man who beat the man". The fight between John L. Sullivan and Dominick McCaffrey is recognized by many boxing historians, including those at The Ring, to be for the inaugural World Heavyweight Championship under the Marquess of Queensberry Rules (however, some dispute that claim for various reasons, including the short distance of the bout, McCaffrey's small size and the fact that both fighters were Americans). The lineage was the only universally recognized form of a world championship until July 2, 1921, when Jack Dempsey became the inaugural NBA Heavyweight Champion.
|Name||Title recognition||Title bout wins|
|3.||James J. Jeffries||Universal||8|
|5.||James J. Corbett||Universal||2|
The growing popularity of boxing led to a birth of various regional sanctioning organizations, with each recognizing their own champion. The major governing bodies were the National Boxing Association, formed in 1921, the New York State Athletic Commission, found after the Walker Law legalized prizefighting in New York in 1920, and the International Boxing Union, created in 1911 in Paris in attepmt create a unified international governing body for professional boxing. Both NBA and NYSAC made then-lineal champion Jack Dempsey their inaugural champion on July 2, 1921, and July 24, 1922, respectively.
|Name||Title recognition||Title bout wins|
|1.||Joe Louis||NYSAC, NBA||26|
|2.||Jack Dempsey||NYSAC, NBA||3|
|Primo Carnera||NYSAC, NBA, IBU|
|Jersey Joe Walcott||NYSAC, NBA|
|Max Schmeling||NYSAC, NBA, IBU|
|8.||Jack Sharkey||NYSAC, NBA, IBU||1|
|Max Baer||NYSAC, NBA, IBU|
|James J. Braddock||NYSAC, NBA, IBU|
The growing popularity of boxing outside of the USA led to creation of various boxing organizations, each strengthening their influence (most notably BBBofC) and having their own champion. This resulted in a growing number of boxers claiming to be legitimate champions. The disruption in boxing was solved after the World War II when the World Championship Committee (WCC) was created with NBA as its unanimous authority. The committee, however, was disbanded in 1955 when NBA, along with its new members (which included the Orient, Mexican and South American federations and boxing commissions of the Philippines and Thailand) left WCC citing lack of control over the organisation. The NBA's voting scheme guaranteed one vote for each state commission as well as one vote for each foreign country. On August 23, 1962, the NBA officially became the World Boxing Association and moved their headquarters to Panama City, Panama.
A year later NYSAC along with European Boxing Union and BBBofC supported creation of the World Boxing Council. WBC was officially established on February 14, 1963, in Mexico City, Mexico by 11 countries (the United States, Puerto Rico, Argentina, United Kingdom, France, Mexico, Philippines, Panama, Chile, Peru, Venezuela and Brazil) that were invited by the President of Mexico Adolfo López Mateos to form an international organization to unify all commissions of the world to control the expansion of boxing. The reason for the move were concerns about WBA's alleged lack of desire to support professional boxing outside of the USA. In April 1983, members of United States Boxing Association along with Robert W. Lee (a former WBA vice-president) voted to expand the organisation and form the USBA-International. The organization later changed the name to International Boxing Federation. The inaugural IBF Heavyweight Champion was Larry Holmes, who relinquished the WBC title to accept IBF's recognition, thus helping the newly formed organization to establish its legitimacy. Another major sanctioning body, the World Boxing Organisation, was established in 1988 in San Juan, Puerto-Rico by a group of local businessmen. At the beginnings, when most of the challengers for WBA, WBC and IBF titles were Americans, WBO had a wider variety of countries, mainly European, represented in title bouts. In the inaugural bout, Italian boxer Francesco Damiani defeated Johnny du Plooy from South Africa by KO in the 3rd round. Before the Klitschko Era, United Kingdom tied USA for most wins in WBO Heavyweight title fights with 8. WBO struggled with receiving credibility at first, but by the beginning of the 2000s, the WBA was giving the same recognition to WBO champions as it did to WBC and IBF champions.
WBO, WBC, IBF and WBA are all recognized as major boxing organizations by each other and the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Riddick Bowe remains the only heavyweight boxer to win all four world titles (WBA, WBC and IBF in 1992-93 and WBO in 1995), while Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko are the only brothers to hold them at the same time (from 2011 to 2013).
Most wins in title bouts
Most consecutive title defenses
Most wins in unified championship bouts
Most consecutive defenses of unified championship
Heavyweight Over 200 lbs.
Heavy More than 200 Lbs.
Heavyweight Over 200lbs or 90.91 kg.