There is little to no doubt that the blue riband division of boxing is that of the heavyweights. This has been the case since the late 1800s. The fights continually have bulging purses, impressive worldwide viewing figures and often the most controversy in the build-up, fight and aftermath.
Up until his recent defeat, Dillian Whyte had been the number one contender for the WBC title for over 1000 days without receiving a shot.
How he may wish he was boxing back in 1967.
This is because an elimination tournament was held. There were just two sanctioning bodies at the time, the WBA and WBC. Unfortunately, this was also a time when the Vietnam War was being fought.
The holder of both titles was Muhammad Ali. He famously refused to fight in the war and was later sentenced to prison for failing to do so. He was banned from boxing, not fighting between 1967 and 1970.
As a result, the WBA wanted to crown a new champion and sought about finding eight suitable candidates. The WBC kept Ali as its champion for some three years before anyone fought for the vacant title.
The eight invited were former world champions Floyd Patterson and Ernie Terrell, Argentine Oscar Bonavena, unproven Californian Thad Spencer, Ali’s stablemate Jimmy Ellis, Jerry Quarry, number one contender Joe Frazier and sole European Karl Mildenberger of Germany.
The competition was not without its problems. The biggest name in the line-up, Frazier, declined entry to the tournament with Leotis Martin taking his place.
Frazier’s refusal was two-fold. He decided to go down the NYSAC title route, a strap highly regarded as a world title in the United States, whilst he also reportedly disagreed with Ali being stripped of his title.
Ironically, Ali and Frazier went on to build one of the most fearsome and at times distasteful rivalries the sport has ever seen.
Amid criticism the tournament began on August 5, 1967, with Ellis stopping late entrant Martin at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. On the same card a 24-year-old Spencer beat Terrell via decision.
Ali was present at ringside in the city he had just refused three times to step forward when his name was called for US Army enrolment.
The only fight held in Europe was that between Mildenberger and Bonavena, the Argentine triumphing via points in September 1967 in Frankfurt.
The final quarter-final was between Patterson and Quarry with the latter triumphing on the score cards in Los Angeles, California in October 1967.
The competition did not hang around.
By December, Ellis was out-pointing Bonavena in Kentucky to secure his place in the final. In February 1968, Quarry knocked out Spencer to join Ellis and both were just one fight away from becoming WBA world champion.
After his semi-final defeat Spencer’s career took a downturn. Despite being favourite against Quarry the stoppage had a lasting effect. In fact, he never won another fight, retiring eight fights and three years later in 1971.
The final took place in California on April 27, 1968 meaning this iconic tournament had been completed in just nine months. Ellis won the fight via majority decision, something that would have no doubt pleased his stable-mate, Ali.
In a dreary affair that failed to entertain, Quarry famously claimed that if he had been given the title he would have given it back. With both fighters failing to impress, it added to shadow over the tournament due to its absence of Ali and Frazier.
Matchmaker Teddy Brenner joked: “The WBA tournament was a total success, it eliminated all eight fighters.”
Following the tournament Ellis made just the one successful defence, this was against fellow tournament entrant Patterson who was now in his sixteenth year as a pro.
Unfortunately for Ellis, he then unsurprisingly lost the title to Frazier, the man that had refused entry to the tournament. This fight was also for the WBC title, the first time it had been fought for since Ali’s ban.
As for the other seven fighters in the tournament, none of them went on to gain the WBA or WBC strap.
The competition, while not considered a tremendous success at the time, would undoubtedly be greeted positively by boxing fans today.
The WBA, the association that has Anthony Joshua as its champion ranks Trevor Bryan, Oleksandr Usyk, Andy Ruiz Jr, Adam Kownacki, Charles Martin, Chris Arreola and Agit Kabayel in its top eight.
It is unlikely that a tournament such as the one held in 1967 will ever take place for heavyweights.
The complicated politics involving the four recognised sanctioning bodies, TV deals and a wide range of promoters make it so much harder than when this tournament took place 53 years ago.
That said, the World Boxing Super Series has arranged tournaments successfully in other weight divisions. However, no division is quite like that of the heavyweights, be it terms of pounds (lbs) or pounds (£s). It is for that reason we will not hold our breath.
Sky Sports schedule
Usyk vs Chisora – Oct 31, live on Sky Sports Box Office
Oleksandr Usyk vs Derek Chisora
Lee Selby vs George Kambosos Jr
Savannah Marshall vs Hannah Rankin
Tommy McCarthy vs Bilal Laggoune
Amy Timlin vs Carly Skelly
Taylor vs Gutierrez – Nov 14, live on Sky Sports
Katie Taylor vs Miriam Gutierrez
Terri Harper vs Katharina Thanderz
Rachel Ball vs Ebanie Bridges
Jamie Cox vs Jack Cullen
John Docherty vs Jack Arnfield
Thomas Whittaker-Hart vs Jermaine Springer
Povetkin vs Whyte 2 – Nov 21, live on Sky Sports Box Office
Alexander Povetkin vs Dillian Whyte
Conor Benn vs Sebastian Formella
Chris Billam-Smith vs Deion Jumah
The Golden Contract – Dec 2, live on Sky Sports
Ryan Walsh vs Jazza Dickens
Ricards Bolotniks vs Serge Michel
Harlem Eubank vs Daniel Egbunike
Saunders vs Murray – Dec 4, live on Sky Sports
Billy Joe Saunders vs Martin Murray
Joshua vs Pulev – Dec 12, live on Sky Sports Box Office
Anthony Joshua vs Kubrat Pulev