Heavyweight eras: 2023 v 1996

By Gav Duthie: Nostalgia will tell us that the greatest eras in heavyweight boxing were the 1970s and 1990s. The 70s championed Muhammad Ali, the world’s greatest known boxer ever, and both the 70s and the 90s seemed to be a time when everyone fought everyone.

Although that may not be strictly true, perception is reality. Many see the current era as having great fighters, but just that they are not fighting. The recent biography of George Foreman, a man who competed and was unbelievably world champion in both the 70s and the 90s, has shone the spotlight again on the 1990s era. A few posts have emerged on social media comparing the rankings of 1996 to that of today. I thought it would be fun to compare the eras and discuss the fantasy matchups for each corresponding fighter in the opposite rank of the aforementioned time.

The analysis

For the sake of this article, my opinions are completely my own. Each fighter will be compared to that of the same rank as of that time. The records shown in my analysis are the records of each fighter at the end of 1996 to show a reflection of their ability at that time. I will also rate out of 5 stars purely on how entertaining the fight would be with a prediction also.


1. Oleksandr Usyk
2. Tyson Fury
3. Deontay Wilder
4. Anthony Joshua
5. Joe Joyce
6. Andy Ruiz Jnr
7. Dillian Whyte
8. Luis Ortiz
9. Joseph Parker
10. Filip Hrgovic


1. Evander Holyfield
2. Lennox Lewis
3. Mike Tyson
4. Michael Moorer
5. Andrew Galota
6. Ray Mercer
7. Henry Akinwande
8. David Tua
9. Riddick Bowe
10. Tim Witherspoon

(10) Filip ‘El Animal’ Hrgovic 15-0 (12) v ‘Terrible’ Tim Witherspoon 45-4 (30)


Witherspoon turned to the paid ranks in 1979, so he was already a 17-year professional in 1996. He boxed until 2003, but in all honesty, his best days were somewhat behind him at this point, although he was still competitive. Witherspoon became a world champion 10 years 86’ earlier, stopping Frank Bruno but losing it straight away against ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith in 1 round despite having bested Smith before. Hrgovic was a good bit taller than Tim, but one of the most famous knockouts in heavyweight history is attributed to Smith destroying 6”7 inch tall Anders Eklund. His overhand right could take anyone when he was on it. Hrgovic is an elite-level talent, but Tim has 34 fights on him at this point and was class when he wanted to be. I have to go with the current fighter in this instance. Tim finished 96 losing to Ray Mercer and his strong jab, but I feel that Hrgovic could control the fight and dominate the tough Tim.


(9) Joseph Parker 31-3 (21) V Riddick ‘Big Daddy’ Bowe 40-1 (32)


Now before I get into this, I think that in his prime, Bowe could probably beat anyone from either list. Speed, power, jab, chin, great on the inside, great feet, and unstoppable at times. In 1996 however, despite being only 29, he was well past his best. He had 2 wins in 1996, both via Disqualification because his opponent Andrew Galota decided it would be a good idea to repeatedly hit Bowe in the balls. The strangest part of it was that Galota was completely dominating Bowe in both fights. I get a low blow due to frustration, but why when you are winning? Despite the wins, Bowe retired at the end of 1996 but won 3 fights after a brief comeback several years later. Parker has been a world champion, but it’s safe to say at this point, he is not an elite fighter, and Bowe was. Maybe Bowe wasn’t at it, and his footwork was off, but for me, he still walks Parker down and stops him late.


(8) Luis ‘King Kong’ Ortiz 33-3 (28) v David Tua 25-0 (22)


The two bogeymen of their era. Nobody wanted to face them, and they were absolutely lethal in the ring. Tua won 5 fights in 1996 to get into the top 10, including a 19-second demolition of future champion John Ruiz. Ortiz listed age is currently 44, with many thinking he is older. At this point, Tua was a serious problem. He lost his first fight the next year in one of the greatest ever against Ibeabuchi. A fight with Ortiz would be similar. I think prime v prime Ortiz had a better boxing IQ, but at this point, Tua had such a great chin and would no doubt outwork Ortiz. King Kong’s punch resistance is also gone, with 5 knockdowns against him in his last 2 fights. Tua was relentless at this point, so it’s hard to see past him.


(7) Dillian ‘The Bodysnatcher’ Whyte 29-3 (19) v Henry Akinwande 31-0-1 (17)


Akinwande is mostly remembered the year after for hugging Lennox Lewis for 7 rounds until he was disqualified, but in fairness, he was a good fighter. If you ever want to see John Fury (Tyson’s Dad), watch Akinwande knock him about for 3 rounds and stop him. He also beat Johnny Nelson and Tony Tucker. He was tall but quite slim for a heavyweight. I don’t see Akinwande beating Whyte. Dillian was too strong and would rough him up.


(6) Andy ‘The Destroyer’ Ruiz 35-2 (22) v Ray ‘Merciless’ Mercer 23-4-1 (15)


It could be said of both fighters that they were great when they were on it. Mercer closed out 1996 with a win over Tim Witherspoon after back-to-back defeats against Holyfield and Lewis. They were razor-thin decisions, and many felt he had beaten Lewis. It was probably the only jab that Lewis struggled with his whole career. Ruiz is obviously much faster and has a good boxing IQ. I would side with the current fighter here by decision due to punch output because of his superior speed.


(5) Joe ‘The Juggernaut’ Joyce 15-1 (14) v Andrew Golata 28-2 (25)


What a great fight this would be to watch. It is impossible to say which Golata would turn up. 1996 saw him lose twice to Bowe, but as mentioned earlier, he should have won those fights. In 1997 Lennox Lewis annihilated him in 1 round. He was a big guy and had the potential to box rings around Joyce. If things weren’t going according to Golata’s plans, though, he could quit as he did against Tyson and Michael Grant. I think Joyce demoralizes him with his constant pressure and takes it late.


(4) Anthony ‘AJ’ Joshua 25-3 (22) v Michael ‘Double M’ Moorer 37-1 (31)


If this was today, I don’t think Eddie Hearn would let Joshua fight Michael Moorer. Too many shades of Usyk about him. Moorer was the first southpaw heavyweight champ and was very clever and also had power, winning his first 26 fights by KO. At this point, he had only lost once famously to ‘Big’ George Foreman. History, I feel, underrates Moorer because of this loss. He beat Evander Holyfield the very fight before. This might be controversial as I rate AJ and was one of the few impressed by him winning 10 rounds against Franklin, but I think Moorer takes this in an average spectacle.


(3) Deontay ‘The Bronze Bomber’ Wilder 43-2-1 (42) v ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson 45-2 (39)


If this happened today between these two versions of themselves, it would be epic. 1996 Tyson was not in his prime, but he was still dangerous. That year ended with his first loss to Holyfield but before the ear-biting contest. These are 2 of the biggest punchers in boxing history. To be honest, I see nothing but a devastating Tyson KO victory. Wilder’s jab is too lazy and telegraphed. This is what Tyson was always looking for. Wilder also doesn’t have enough of an inside game. This fight gets ugly and early.


(2) Tyson ‘The Gypsy King’ Fury 33-0-1 (24) v Lennox Lewis 29-1 (24)


The most interesting in terms of boxing ability. Fury, despite being much taller, only has a 1-inch reach advantage. Tyson is in his prime at the moment, whereas Lewis probably came a few years after 1996. Up until this point, Lennox had 1 blemish due to a huge counter right hand by Oliver McCall. He avenged that early in 1997. I don’t think this fight would be great to watch; maybe more of a chess match, but Zi would love to see who had the best ring IQ. Unlike Wladimir, Lewis could really mix it up if getting outboxed, which didn’t happen often. This would have been a great legacy win for either.


(1) Oleksandr Usyk 20-0 (13) v Evander ‘The Real Deal’ Holyfield 33-3 (24)


Their achievements mirror one another. Dominant at cruiserweight and three belts at heavyweight. They were two of the most skilled fighters in history. At this point, despite the belts, you would have to say Evander was much more experienced as a heavyweight. He had a few losses but a Bowe trilogy behind him and a career-best win over Iron Mike Tyson. Usyk’s ring IQ is off the chart, and he was outboxed by Michael Moorer. I am a huge fan of Evander, but can I see Usyk winning seven rounds of a 12 round fight? I have to say yes.


Final Thoughts

Of course, it’s all mythical, but I feel both eras have great fighters. It remains to be seen if the 2023 crowd will fight each other. Of the 96 gang, we saw fights between Lewis/Holyfield x2, Lewis v Galota, Akinwande, Mercer, Tyson, and Tua. Holyfield fought Tyson x2, Lewis x 2, Bowe x3, Moorer x2, and Mercer. These fights didn’t happen overnight, though. Both eras are great, however. What did you think of the predictions, any different opinions, and what was the best era?