Tyson Fury will try to become just the third British heavyweight to win a world title fight on American soil when he faces Deontay Wilder on Saturday.
The English boxer challenges American Wilder at Staples Center in Los Angeles for the WBC world title, after winning the other three world title belts (WBA, IBF and WBO) with an upset win on points over Wladimir Klitschko in Germany three years ago.
Fury, 30, never defended the belts due to problems with depression, drinking and drugs and only returned to the sport in June after serving a back-dated doping ban for a banned substance.
In beating Klitschko in 2015, Fury joined the likes of Britons David Haye, Lennox Lewis, Frank Bruno and Herbie Hide, who have won a world heavyweight title in recent years (reigning unified world titleholder Anthony Joshua was crowned champion in 2016).
But despite this recent success in the land of giants for British boxers, there were decades of defeats for British boxers in world heavyweight title fights — and especially in America.
Just Bob Fitzsimmons and Lewis were successful in world heavyweight title fights in the U.S. — and Fury will be hoping to join their esteemed company in California this weekend.
British heavyweights’ record in the U.S. was so predictably poor that the British heavyweight became known (in America at least) as the “horizontal heavyweight.”
But there was initial success in the division for Britons: Cornwall-born Fitzsimmons beat James J. Corbett for the world title in Carson City, Nevada, in 1897, to end the American’s five-year reign. It was a shock — Fitzsimmons had stepped up from being world middleweight champion and Corbett was an all-conquering champion.
Corbett, who out-weighed him Fitzsimmons by 16 pounds, was stopped by a shot to the solar plexus in the 14th round.
But Fitzsimmons, who relocated to New Zealand at aged 11, lost the title in a first defense to James J. Jeffries in Brooklyn in 1899, which precipitated a series of defeats for British boxers against world heavyweight champions in America, starting with Fitzsimmons himself.
Jeffries knocked out Fitzsimmons in a 1902 rematch in San Francisco, when the Englishman was left unconscious in the eighth round.
Welshman Tommy Farr, a former miner, was the next Briton to challenge for the world heavyweight title in an American ring against Joe Louis in front of 36,903 at the Yankee Stadium in New York, on Aug.30, 1937.
Farr went into the fight dismissed as a no-hoper, but took the champion the distance — the first to do so over 15 rounds — without being floored before losing a unanimous decision.
The New York crowd even booed the result and while American newspapers insisted Louis deserved the scores, the British media thought otherwise.
“There wasn’t much doubt that the Brown Bomber deserved the decision,” reported The Associated Press.
The London Evening Standard reported: “Farr proved himself a better, cleverer and more resourceful boxer.”
More than two million people tuned in to listen to the fight on the radio in the United Kingdom. When Farr’s home town in Tonypandy heard the result, they sang “Land of My Fathers” in the streets at 4 a.m.
Farr had proved far from being the stereotypical “horizontal heavyweight” but Englishman Don Cockell could not remain upright against Rocky Marciano in the American’s penultimate defense and fight before retiring undefeated.
But Marciano was fortunate to get away with a series of fouls before stopping Cockell in the ninth round at the Kezar Stadium, San Francisco. The Londoner was knocked through the ropes in the eighth, before twice being floored in the ninth.
But Marciano was dirty, with kidney and rabbit punches, hitting after the bell and use of the head. He even hit Cockell when he was down — but never received a warning.
“The Americans will always win fights while this goes on,” reported Peter Wilson in the Daily Mirror, a British national newspaper.
“Marciano would have been disqualified had they fought in Britain.”
Other Britons also took a beating.
Brian London was the next Briton to travel to the States in a bid for global glory, but he was outclassed and stopped in the 11th round by Floyd Patterson at the Fairgrounds Coliseum in Indianapolis, on May 1, 1959. London, who finished the fight flat on his face, was Paterson’s warmup for Ingemar Johansson, who beat Paterson in three rounds the following month.
Bruno was twice stopped by Mike Tyson in world heavyweight title fights. The Londoner was not fancied in either, but gave Tyson an almighty fright in their first encounter for all three world titles at the Las Vegas Hilton on Feb. 25, 1989.
After recovering from an early knockdown after just 12 seconds, Bruno then wobbled the undisputed world heavyweight champion with a right hand and left hook.
Tyson was at the peak of his powers and found his rhythm in the fifth round, overwhelming Bruno with a barrage of blows.
In a rematch seven years later, back in Vegas at the MGM Grand, a nervous Bruno suffered an even more crushing defeat in a first defense of the WBC belt on March 16, 1996. Bruno never fought again after being destroyed in three rounds in Tyson’s third fight since being released from prison.
Hide, from Norwich, also suffered a painful night at the MGM Grand when Riddick Bowe knocked him out in the sixth round for Hide’s WBO belt on March 11, 1995.
Nigerian-born Hide, who was 27 pounds lighter than Bowe, was decked seven times in the massacre.
Lewis, who became Britain’s first world heavyweight champion in nearly 100 years, suffered two professional defeats, but neither were on American soil and when he fought to a draw with Evander Holyfield in New York in 1999 it was a controversial decision, which most thought the Briton should have won.
When Lewis and Holyfield met again at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas later in the year, (Lewis was WBC champion, Holyfield held the WBA and IBF titles), the Briton won a unanimous decision over the American to become undisputed champion.
Lewis beat Tony Tucker in a first defense of the WBC belt by a unanimous decision, despite tiring, at the Thomas & Mack Center in 1993 to become the first Briton to win a world heavyweight title fight in the U.S. since Fitzsimmons in 1897.
Lewis returned to Vegas in 1997 to exact revenge over unstable American Oliver McCall and regain his WBC belt with a bizarre fifth-round win at the Hilton. McCall appeared to have a nervous breakdown in the ring and a couple months later was detained in a mental hospital.
Lewis captured two other versions of the world title with his win over Holyfield and in 2001 knocked out American Hasim Rahman in four rounds at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas to regain the IBF and WBC belts as well as getting revenge. In total, Lewis won 13 world title fights on American soil (with one draw and zero defeats).
The last Briton to fight for the world heavyweight title in America was Danny Williams. It did not end well at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino on Dec. 11, 2004. Williams, from south London, was sent crashing to the canvas four times by Ukraine’s Vitali Klitschko in a WBC title fight.
World heavyweight title fights have predominantly been in Europe in recent years, with Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko holding all the belts for a sustained period, before Wilder won the WBC title in January 2015 and Fury beat Wladimir.
Fury will this weekend attempt to put all the world heavyweight titles back in European possession, with his English rival Joshua holding the other three major titles.
Note: Henry Akinwande and Michael Bentt, who were both born in London, won the WBO version of the world heavyweight title on American soil in 1996 and 1993, respectively. But Akinwande moved away from the UK aged four and Bentt moved to New York aged five; neither are considered British for this piece.