When Boxing Ruled the World

As Lennox Lewis prepares for his first fight as Heavyweight Champion, BBC1 looks back at the golden era of the sport's top division in this brilliant documentary.

For the Heavyweights, it didn't get any better than the Seventies. The decade began with Smokin' Joe Frazier as champion and, within a year, he met Muhammed Ali for the "Fight of the Century", the first of their three classic battles.

So began a sequence of fights that gripped the world's imagination. THe bouts were always somewhere glamorous and remote - Kinshasa, Manila, Tokyo, Jakarta. Not for these greats the predictable surroundings of the latest swanky casino in Vegas.

Everyone had their favourite. Some loved Ali for his supreme skill and grace but just as many were infuriated by hjis boasting and conversion to Islam. Some rated George Foreman, a man whose punch was thought to make him invincible - until he faced Ali.

Britain had a history of brave contenders. Henry Cooper had been the first man to put the then Cassius Clay on the canvas, but by the time he met him again, just before the 1996 World Cup Final, the new champion took "Our 'Enery" apart.

Richard Dunn took his chance in 1976 after Ali won the title back from George Foreman but, once again, the British challenger was outclassed and he only survived five rounds. According to boxing folklore, Ali had told a ringside TV producer to "get those commercials in quick - I can't hold this sucker up any longer." The nearest Britain came to a real challenger was John Bugner. He thought Frazier and took on Ali twice. Valiant in defeat, he always went the distance.

Between 1960 and 1075, Britain didn't have a single World Champion at any weight but, by the time Ali beat Foreman in Zaire, a generation of Brits were emerging who would become champions at all levels. Minter, Magri, Hope and Stacey had been inspired to take their chances and the public fervour for boxing was about to make John Conteh the British Ali. He had the champagne and Roller lifestyle and Ali even thought he was prettier than he was!

For all the efforts of the plucky Brits who faced Ali, Frazier and Foreman - and not forgetting the later efforts of Frank Bruno - boxing fans had to wait until the Nineties for an undisputed British World Heavyweight Champion in Lennox Lewis. With the prospect of a fight against Mike Tyson on the horizon, Lennox could be just one bout away from joining that list of true greats...

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 65 minutes (approx)