The greatest 15 boxers, pound 4 pound of all time
By Daven: Recently there was a post on this website, featuring the top ten greatest Mexican fighters to ever set foot inside a boxing ring. I found the discussion, especially from the Facebook users to be extremely intriguing. In essence it made me want to be bolder and evaluate the top 15 of all time. I thought doing a top 10 would be too easy hence why I’m doing overtime. Also I will only consider retired fighters, so active fighters are a no go area simply because their legacies are yet to be finalized.
First things first allow me to qualify my parameters. When I hear the term best “P4p” I immediately comprehend it to mean that if all the fighters were the same size yet had their own skill sets, then which skill set was the most impressive? Also I have to take into account the level of competition one has faced; the win loss record is not important to me at all. I mean come on, does any serious boxing scholar or fan regard Rocky Marciano as the greatest heavyweight of all time? No because despite being unbeaten his skill set wasn’t all that impressive and moreover he did not face top calibre opponents.
Another parameter one must abide by when looking at any pound for pound list is comparing fighters when they were at their absolute peak. Muhammad Ali may have lost to Trevor Berbick but Ali was at least 8 years past his prime. Likewise Sugar Ray Robinson lost to Paul Pender but it was not the same Sugar, it was a 37 year old shell of the former great and a man fighting purely for money.
Lastly consistency is a parameter that I hold dear, Mike Tyson had 3 solid years but never went on to defeat a great heavyweight who happened to be in their peak. Thus to all the Tyson lovers out there, he didn’t come close and would be fortunate to make a top 150 P4P list in my view. One has to remember that prizefighting originated in Ancient Greece and has evolved since. Fighters in the eighteenth century and nineteenth century often fought 20-30 times a year and this statistic has to be taken into account when compiling a top 15 list. Essentially my list is not a popularity contest, it’s a boxing contest to put it bluntly.
15- Archie Moore. This man holds the record for the most knock outs in the history of the sport at 131. His first bout was in 1935 and for many years he struggled to make a living at a time when black fighters were usually shunned from receiving opportunities afforded to white men. However, Archie never gave up and captured the light heavyweight championship at either 36 or 39. (There is confusion surrounding his birth date) He went on to fight a much bigger and younger man in Rocky Marciano for the world heavyweight title giving Rocky a tough fight but eventually losing. Overall Moore had signature wins over Joey Maxim, Bobo Olson, Yvon Durelle and Giulio Rinaldi.
14- Pancho Villa. He is easily the best Asian fighter to ever grace the Earth. (Including retired fighters only) Of the little archival footage there is as well as reading material, it’s evident to see how brilliant the former flyweight world champion truly was. His key strengths were stamina, combinations and movement. He was victorious against Jimmy Wilde who is widely believed to be a top 25 pound for pounder as well as British boxing’s greatest export. Villa wowed and captivated the American audiences with his barrage of punches and will never be forgotten.
13- Barney Ross. He was only the third man to win three world championships at a time when there was only one undisputed champion per weight class. He ruled the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions with an iron fist and endured a brief spell as welterweight champion too. He is credited with saving boxing due to the fact prior to his emergence arenas were empty due to the lack of quality throughout the divisions; he defeated the great Jimmy McLarnin not once but twice sealing his legacy in the process.
12- Gene Tunney. The fighting marine is probably one of the most neglected heavyweight champions of the twentieth century. Technically speaking he took over from Jack Dempsey yet he never captured the public’s admiration like his old foe had. Not only was Tunney a brilliant ring master he also socialised with members of the American intelligentsia conveying how educated he was. This was polar opposite to Dempsey who lived to fight. All in all Tunney outsmarted Dempsey twice and the great Harry Greb four times. The only negative I have to say about him is that he didn’t take on great black fighters like Sam Langford or jack Johnson however this is more to do with his promoter not him.
11-Jack Dempsey. Although well beaten twice by the man in twelfth place Dempsey’s career was not defined by those two bouts. He was the biggest box office attraction in the history of boxing, he was responsible for bringing in boxing’s first $1,000,000 gate back in 1921 which would equate to 50 times that today. Although he bent the rules from time to time he nonetheless proved value for money with his no nonsense style, ask Jesse Willard who was knocked down at the hands of Dempsey seven times in the first round! Overall Jack transcended the sport and was the first boxer to cross over into the entertainment business. It’s important to also note that he was robbed in the infamous “night of the long count” against Tunney but that wasn’t Gene’s fault.
10- Sugar Ray Leonard. This man needs no introduction. My father’s favourite fighter had to be in the top 15 simply because he is the classiest operator I recall seeing. (I was born in 1990) With huge wins over the likes of Hagler, Hearns and Duran one could argue that his list of victims is the second most impressive in history. If I had to pick one legacy defining fight for Sugar it would have to be the bout with Hagler. It was his first fight in three years and he was expected to get knocked out by all the credible pundits, yet he dug deep and earned a well deserved victory (In my opinion) It was a shame he boxed on after that but his legacy was already secure so I suppose there was no real harm caused.
9- Julio Cesar Chavez. The only Mexican fighter to make the list! Sorry Mexicans fans, I tried my best to get more in. Chavez came relatively close to getting to 100 fights without losing decisively but he came up short. He only lost 6 bouts of 116 and when you consider the level of opposition he faced it really is an incredible achievement. Victims included: Hector Camacho, Meldrick Taylor and Floyd Mayweather.
8- Jack Johnson. Maybe the most controversial man in boxing history, he was never supposed to accomplish what he did but he took no notice of the social norms. He won the heavyweight championship of the world on 26th December 1908 and held in for seven years. Many “great white hopes”came and fought… and got knocked out but ultimately the government forced Johnson out of the country for violating numerous laws such as the interracial marriage act and the Mann act.Eventually in 1915 he would lose the title but his black fighters were to be respected if not feared for years to come. He tortured greats such as Jim Jeffries and Stanley Ketchel and could have done more had he not lived so recklessly.
7- Willie Pep. Known primarily for being the only man in history to win a round without throwing a punch, Pep was possibly the most elusive fighter the world has ever known. Pep blitzed through all of his opponents early on, but a career threatening back injury caused by an airplane crash aged just 25 resulted in Pep never being the same fighter. He still outclassed tough men but never fully regained the balance or speed he once enjoyed. He is the greatest Featherweight champion of all time.
6- Joe Louis. He was the best finisher to ever grace the heavyweight division. Louis stalked opponents in the crudest possible manner yet the end result was often the same, a Joe Louis knock out victory. When the brown bomber avenged his loss to Max Schmeling many argue the myth of White supremacy totally evaporated into thin air. Thus showing how integral the victory was for democracy. He also knocked out Billy Conn, a technical master and destroyed J.J Braddock which was a rare feet for most.
5- Roberto Duran. In his prime he was the most callous brute one can recall. In the last round of his epic encounter with Leonard he refused to touch gloves with the golden boy, instead looking on with disdain and disgust. Fans actually loved this attitude even though Ray was the most popular thing since Sinatra. Somehow Duran bounced back from the second bout and went on to capture the WBC middleweight title against Iran Barkley in a huge upset. All in all Duran recovered from “no mas” and his numerous world titles testify to that.
4- Harry Greb. Harry was the only man to beat Gene Tunney and it was over 15 rounds for Tunney’s light heavyweight championship so it certainly was no fluke. In the four subsequent rematches Greb would lose to Tunney but he would go on from this to fight at middleweight- his natural weight and win the world title. Unfortunately he died at the tender age of 24, it was after his death when people realised how great he had been. It was determined in the autopsy that he had been fighting with sight in only one eye; somehow a man who barely weighed 170lbs and with one eye had beaten the great Gene Tunney over 15 rounds. It was an incredible fact, Greb’s trainer later recounted that Harry had sworn him to secrecy about the blindness as he did not want the boxing board to revoke his licence.
3- Muhammad Ali. To put it simply he was the greatest heavyweight of all time but even he knew he was never the best of all weight categories. Ali probably had the best chin and heart in the game. George Foreman, Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, Floyd Patterson, Ken Norton, Jimmy Ellis and Leon Spinks all lost to Ali. What’s most impressive besides the quality of his victims is the fact Ali was past his peak following 1970 yet he still found a way to win. There is a case to suggest that had Ali not been forced to give up boxing for three years then maybe he would have never lost. But one thing we can all agree on is that he is the biggest and best human being ever to derive from prizefighting.
2- Henry Armstrong. Homicide Hank held the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight titles simultaneously illustrating his brilliance. The reason for holding all three titles was simple; it was about the money. It was decided that because Joe Louis was the superstar of the day, it would take something special for Armstrong to gain notoriety. It’s fair to say he earned a lot of interest and money by fighting as frequently as he did. He often fought bigger guys yet that mattered little to him.
1- Sugar Ray Robinson. Ali’s idol makes number one on my list like every other credible list. Watching him fight was regarded as being ” sweet as sugar” and from the brief footage I’ve seen and from what I’ve read and heard he deserves top spot. In his first twelve years as a professional he only lost one fight and he avenged it many times over. He dominated the Welterweight division like no other and refused to duck from anybody. Money and his competitive nature encouraged him to step up to middleweight. He achieved excellent things at 160lbs too but was beatable. Like many great fighters he retired and then came back to try and relive the glory years as well as paying off debts yet at his peak he was untouchable.
Honorable mentions- Sam Langford, Benny Leonard, Jimmy Wilde, Rocky Marciano, Ezzard Charles, Marvin Hagler & Ted Lewis.