A look at boxers whose height (or lack thereof) set them apart from their peers as the "Towering Inferno" prepares to defend his interim 154-pound world title against Carlos Ocampo Saturday night on SHOWTIME.
You can’t miss Sebastian Fundora.
“The Towering Inferno” is a classic example of a physical freak, a 6-foot-5 154-pounder who is mostly skin and elongated bones, which doesn’t seem ideal for the rigors of boxing. Yet he somehow can absorb punishment and dish out plenty of it himself.
That’s why he’s on precipice of fighting for a full world title, assuming he can get past Carlos Ocampo in defense of his WBC Interim Super Welterweight title this Saturday, October 8, atop a PBC event at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California, live on SHOWTIME (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
With Fundora and his unusual physical attributes in mind, PBC presents five more boxers whose unusual height (or lack thereof) set them apart from their peers.
Here is the short and tall of it:
Unusual feature: 5-foot-1½ welterweight
Background: Many prize fighters have been around the original Joe Walcott’s height. Not many have fought at welterweight and heavier, as the “Barbados Demon” did. And almost none have had the kind of success he did in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Walcott was fierce and unusually strong for a man of his stature, which allowed him to build a Hall of Fame career in almost two decades in the ring. He knocked out Rube Ferns to win the welterweight title in 1901 but his victories over bigger men like Joe Choynski (who would go on to beat heavyweight great Jack Johnson) made him a true legend.
Quote: Walcott was a “sawed-off Hercules” and “an abnormally powerful puncher,” Nat Fleischer
Unusual feature: Shortest heavyweight champion
Background: Burns, who fought early in the 20th century, had an underappreciated reign as heavyweight champion. The French-Canadian had 13 successful title defenses in five countries, making him an early road warrior. The fact he did it at 5-foot-7 and around 175 pounds at his peak is remarkable. His long reach (74 inches), athleticism and punching power compensated for his relatively short stature. Burns’ impressive run came to an abrupt end when he agreed to defend his title in 1908 against a prime – and much bigger – Jack Johnson, who delivered a fearful beating.
Quote: “Burns was small and fast, holding his hands low and darting in and out to score punches. It was a technique that often worked against larger, slower men,” The Boxing Register.
Unusual feature: Shortest champion ever
Background: Matlala’s nickname was “Baby Jake” because he was the size of one, 4-foot-10½, which is the height of the average 11-year-old boy. That certainly didn’t hinder the South African, who became a two-division world titleholder and one of his country’s greatest fighters. The Independent newspaper described him as, “comically small, with a big bald head and an old man's face.” He didn’t fight like an old man. He had impeccable skills – particularly on defense – and power that belied his size. He beat a string of the best little men from the U.K. at his peak and also took down Hall of Famer Michael Carbajal, who was stopped in nine rounds in 1997 in Las Vegas. He died at 51 in 2013 but he’ll remain in the hearts of his fans.
Quote: “Style-wise, he was a relentless two-fisted boxer-puncher who fought (necessarily) on his toes,” The Ring.
Unusual feature: One of the tallest champions
Background: The “Pottawatomie (Kansas) Giant” has the word giant in his nickname. That says a great deal about how he was perceived during his time, the 1910s and ’20s. Willard was listed at 6-foot-6 to 6-6½ (the height of the Klitschko brothers), had a long 83-inch each and weighed 238½ pounds the day of his legendary 26th-round knockout of the great, but aging Jack Johnson in 1915. He was no boxing genius but was surprisingly quick and as strong and tough as you’d expect for man his size. He proved the latter when he took horrible punishment but refused to quit against a young, fearsome Jack Dempsey in 1919.
Quote: “(Willard) was a dangerous puncher, particularly with his big right hand and is regarded as one of boxing’s most underrated heavyweight champions,” International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Unusual feature: Tallest champion ever
Background: There is big. Then there is Nikolai Valuev big. The Goliath-like Russian has the distinction of being the tallest and heaviest heavyweight champion at 7-feet and close to 350 pounds at his heftiest. He outweighed several opponents by more than 100 pounds. The “Beast from the East” was neither a great technician nor a powerful puncher but he used adequate ability and his size to carve out a decent career as a two-time beltholder. He outpointed John Ruiz to win his first title in 2005, lost it to Ruslan Chagaev and then regained it by decisioning Ruiz again in a fight for a vacant title in 2008. Valuev was far from great but it’s impossible to forget him.
Quote: “I consider him more of a circus show freak that happens to be boxing,” David Haye.
For a closer look at Fundora vs Ocampo, check out our fight night page.