by World Press Photo

Whereas some popular sports—such as tennis, baseball and ice skating—are rarely seen in the World Press Photo collection, others seem to be included almost every year.

Swimming and wrestling, for example, belong to that photogenic category of sports, as well as boxing, which has been awarded since the early 1960s.

Fame and recognition

After World War II, television played a significant role in the promotion of professional boxing among a wide audience, and the picture magazines followed suit. Photography and television made legends of Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and Muhammad Ali, who brought worldwide fame and recognition to the sport in the 1960s. Their greatest moments of triumph and deepest moments of pain were recorded and awarded: Sonny Liston knocking out former title-holder Floyd Patterson in Las Vegas (photographed by Murray Becker in 1963), Muhammad Ali towering over his challenger Liston in an iconic picture made by John Rooney, and Joe Frazier taking a strike at Ali during the ‘Fight of the Century’ in New York’s Madison Square Garden, photographed by Andrew Lopez in 1971.

Split second

Many photographers have been awarded for their skill in capturing that crucial knockout in the ring, the moment of impact that distorts the face of the one who receives the blow, which only lasts for a split second. American photographer Ronald Kuntz, for example, who registered the winning blow of heavyweight champion Larry Holmes in his fight against Renaldo Snipes in Pittsburgh, 1981. His fellow countryman Ken Regan was in the right place at the right time to snap Mike Tyson knocking out Joe Frazier’s son Mavis in New York, 1986.

Life style

Boxing also provides an interesting example of how the accent in the winning photos shifted from pure sports photography to a more documentary approach in the 1990s, presenting boxing as a lifestyle and cultural phenomenon. In 1991, Patrick Aventurier won first prize for his story about the importance of boxing as a national sport in Thailand. The many boxing schools in Cuba, where former champions teach children hoping to continue the island’s tradition as a boxing nation, were the subject of both Stephan Vanfleteren’s and Alex Garcia’s winning pictures in 1996 and 2002, respectively. Howard Schatz’s 2009 prize-winning series of boxers before and after their fights showed the sport’s physical consequences. And Muhammad Ali, whose triumphs in the 1960s and 1970s are prominently featured in the World Press Photo collection, was beautifully portrayed in 1997 by Carol Guzy at his farm where he trained for his big fights.

Murray Becker

John Rooney

Andrew Lopez

Ronald Kuntz

Ken Regan

Ken Regan

Patrick Aventurier

Stephan Vanfleteren

Alex Garcia

Howard Schatz

Howard Schatz

Carol Guzy