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World Boxing Federation Champions Of The Past: Joe Bugner
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FEATURE   Photo: Former World Boxing Federation (WBF) World Heavyweight Champion Joe Bugner.

Since the World Boxing Federation was originally founded by American Larry Carrier in 1988, many of the sport’s biggest names have won a WBF title, and proudly defended the blue, red and gold belt all over the world.

In the Champions Of The Past Series we take a closer look at some of the boxers who held WBF titles in years gone by, from lesser known champions to world renowned fighters, legends of the sport and current or future Hall of Famers.


While his career as a whole was quite amazing, it is safe to say that Joe Bugner´s reign as WBF World Heavyweight Champion is rather easily forgotten about. It came at the tail-end of his long ring-campaign, as a result of his opponent suffering an injury, and he never defended the title.

But never the less, Bugner is a very note-worthy former WBF champion, and deserves to be recognized as such. Between 1967 and 1999 (!), he fought eighty-three times as a professional, all over the world and against a regular who’s-who of the biggest names around.

Born Jozsef Kreul Bugner on March 13 1950 in Szoereg, Hungary, he fled with his family to Britain after the soviet invasion in 1956. Living in Bedford in East England, Bugner excelled in several sports while in school, but eventually decided to focus on boxing.

After a short amateur career, that saw him win thirteen of sixteen bouts, he turned professional in December 1967, still only seventeen years old. Unfortunately he was stopped in three rounds by journeyman Paul Brown (1-3) at the Hilton Hotel in London, but he soon found his way and went on to win his next eighteen fights.

His next set-back came in August 1969, when experienced American Dick Hall (30-8-3) edged him by very close decision in Manchester, but at nineteen it was in fact a promising performance by Bugner, who likely learned a lot from the encounter.

He bounced back very well, and defeated solid opponents Phil Smith (10-2-1), Charley Polite (11-13-3), Johnny Prescott (34-10-4), Roberto Davilla (21-15), Manuel Ramos (23-10-2) and Ray Patterson (23-9-4), to set up a changing-of-the-guard match-up with former British and Commonwealth champion Brian London (37-19-1).

They clashed on May 12, 1970 at the Empire Pool in London, and only a few months after his twentieth birthday Bugner was just too young and fresh for “The Blackpool Rock” (35), who had challenged Muhammad Ali for the world title four years earlier.

Bugner impressively outdid London in every department, and while the veteran never went down, he took a lot of punishment, and it came as no surprise to anyone when referee Harry Gibbs stepped in and waved it off already in the fifth round.

Now considered the new hope on the British Heavyweight scene, and rightfully so, Bugner kept his momentum going with a training camp in the United States, where he sparred the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Sonny Liston and Jimmy Ellis.

He made good use of that experience, in September of 1970, with a third round stoppage of New Jersey-brawler Chuck Wepner (20-6-2), who at the time was still considered world class, and followed up by defeating the likes of Hector Eduardo Corletti (32-6-5), Miguel Angel Paez (46-14-13) and Carl Gizzi (31-8).

In March 1971 he further built on his resume by beating, and retiring, another British icon in the beloved Henry Cooper (40-13-1), winning the British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight titles in the process. In a tough and close fight, Bugner was awarded a decision by the closest of margins.

In the next few years he retained his European crown, lost his British, Commonwealth and European to Jack Bodell (57-10), regained the European against Juergen Blin (29-10-6), whom he had already beaten in a title-defense the previous year, and again retained it by defeating Rudi Lubbers (21-0).

The Lubbers victory was especially important, as it secured Bugner a shot at the most significant fighter the sport has ever produced, Muhammad Ali (40-1). While Ali was not world champion at the time, there was no bigger fight imaginable.

On February 14, 1973, at the Convention Center in Las Vegas, Bugner was an 8-1 underdog against Ali. “The Greatest” had predicted he would stop his 22-year-old foe in seven rounds, but Bugner bravely fought his chance and made it to the end, losing on points after twelve rounds.

Five months later, back in London, Bugner took on another legendary former world champion in “Smoking” Joe Frazier (29-1). And again Bugner lost after a brave effort, surviving a tenth round knock-down courtesy of a Frazier left hook, to come in second on the scorecard of referee Harry Gibbs.

Still the reigning European champion, there was plenty left to do for Bugner despite the losses to Ali and Frazier. In October of 1973 he successfully defended his title against Italian Giuseppe Ros (37-8), then went on to score decisions over huge puncher Mac Foster (30-3) and his fellow American Pat Duncan (30-5-1).

Two more European title-defenses, in May 1974 and February 1975, sandwiched around a few non-title wins, one of which were over former WBA world champion Jimmy Ellis (39-10-1), paved the way for a June 1975 rematch with Ali, who had regained the world title (WBC/WBA) in legendary fashion against George Foreman eight months earlier.

In front of 22.000 spectators at the Merdeka Stadium in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and shown live in more than sixty countries on closed circuit TV, Bugner reportedly earned 500.00 US Dollars on his way to losing another decision to Ali, this time over fifteen rounds.

During the cause of the next twelve years, Bugner fought sporadically, barely averaging one fight per year. He still had good performances in him, such as when he regained the British, Commonwealth and European titles with a first round annihilation of Richard Dunn (33-10) in October 1976.

Besides James Tillis (33-9), David Bey (15-3) and Greg Page (27-6), he mostly beat lower key foes, but he also lost to contenders Ron Lyle (32-5-1), Ernie Shavers (65-10-1) and Frank Bruno (31-2). And it appeared that the Bruno fight, in October 1987, would be his last, as he drifted into retirement and a new life in Australia with a record of 61-12-1.

In Australia, Bugner and his wife Marlene opened a vineyard. That venture later failed, and at some point Bugner got a desire to return to boxing. So, inspired by George Foreman, who had recaptured the world heavyweight title at forty-five, he began training again at that same age.

His comeback officially began on September 22, 1995 in Queensland, and while it was not exactly at world class level he did dethrone defending Australian Heavyweight champion Vince Cervi (8-3-2) by wide twelve-round unanimous decision. Not too bad for a middle-aged man who hadn’t fought in almost nine years!

In February 1996, Bugner stopped West Turner (17-9) in the third round, a month before biting off a bit too much by taking on fellow Brit Scott Welch (16-2) for the WBO Intercontinental title in Germany, losing by sixth round technical knockout.

But it was not the end at all for Bugner. Later in 1996 he won the PABA title with an impressive victory, a fifth round knockout, over Tongan Young Haumona (25-10), and defended that belt in June 1997 with a seventh round stoppage of Waisiki Ligaloa (14-9-1) from Fiji.

Now climbing the world rankings again, he regained the Australian title with a wide decision over Colin Wilson (19-6) in January of 1998, and retained the title by defeating Bob Mirovic (7-6-2) the following April, which lined up a crack at the vacant WBF world title against former WBA world champion James “Bonecrusher” Smith (43-15-1).

The two veterans fought on July 4, 1998 at the Carrara Basketball Stadium in Queensland, but in reality they didn’t fight much at all. Smith retired on his stool after the first round, claiming a shoulder-injury. Forty-eight years old, Bugner was WBF World Heavyweight champion, but undoubtedly he was not too happy with how it happened.

As mentioned previously, Bugner never defended the WBF World title. He fought once more, in June of 1999, winning by disqualification over American Levi Billups (21-21-1). His final record, after more than three decades in the ring, is 69-13-1 (41).

Bugner is a father of three children from two wife’s. Having dabbled in the TV and movie-business, he still lives in Australia, but holds three nationalities: Hungarian, British and Australian.

  Part 34: Myriam Lamare
  Part 33: Darrin Morris
  Part 32: Suwito Lagola
  Part 31: Aaron Zarate
  Part 30: Tommy Small
  Part 29: Matthew Charleston
  Part 28: Jane Couch
  Part 27: Fahlan Sakkreerin
  Part 26: Kenny Keene
  Part 25: Yvan Mendy
  Part 24: Ronnie Magramo
  Part 23: Randall Yonker
  Part 22: Holly Holm
  Part 21: Vinnie Curto
  Part 20: Robin Reid
  Part 19: Lionel Butler
  Part 18: Mads Larsen
  Part 17: Ken Sigurani
  Part 16: Orlando Fernandez
  Part 15: Roger Turner
  Part 14: Roy Jones Jr.
  Part 13: Fitz Vanderpool
  Part 12: Steve Roberts
  Part 11: Thulani "Sugarboy" Malinga
  Part 10: Junior Witter
  Part 9: Jimmy Thunder
  Part 8: Juan Lazcano
  Part 7: Jeff Malcolm
  Part 6: Ricky Parkey
  Part 5: Carl Daniels
  Part 4: Angel Manfredy
  Part 3: Samson Dutch Boy Gym
  Part 2: Greg Haugen
  Part 1: Johnny Nelson

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