Anthony Mason: Many are under the false perception that undefeated equates to great. When looking at the history of boxing, however, we see that all undefeated boxers have a low quality of competition. There have been a lot of undefeated boxers who have simply been good, but none that truly stand out from their level of competition. Let’s take a good look at the undefeated boxers in history.
The likes of Edwin Valero, Harry Simon, Terry Marsh, etc will not be discussed. No analysis is necessary to see that their short careers in combination with their competition are not on the great level.
1) Rocky Marciano, 49-0 (43) – Marciano is an iconic and exciting heavyweight, but his legendary aura and fame overshadow his deceptive record. Marciano fought Joe Louis on his path to the title, but Louis was only fighting because he had to struggle to keep the IRS away from him. Louis was washed up, in terrible condition, and in the last fight of his long and brutal career, lending no credibility to Rocky’s victory. Almost all of his credit comes from his wins over these three men; Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles, and Archie Moore. That list of great fighters initially jumps out at you. Remember, however, that all of these men were past their prime and natural light heavyweights, whereas Marciano was a natural heavyweight in his prime.
As is the case with all undefeated boxers, the record is not what it appears on the surface. Walcott had 15 and 16 losses over the course of 23 years by the time he got to Marciano and was 38 years old. Unlike a present-day boxer such as Mayweather, Walcott didn’t have a measly 46 fights at that age. He had been through a lot more wear and tear than a modern day 38 year old boxer, and went through 69 fights prior to Marciano. Immediately before his fight with Marciano, Walcott had lost 2 of his last 4 fights, and many felt his decision over Ezzard Charles was questionable, arguably lowering his record to 1-3. Despite his size, age, and faded status, he gave Marciano a boxing lesson for a whole 12 rounds.
Eventually, Marciano connected in the thirteenth round, and the blind squirrel was fortunate enough to stumble upon an acorn. The knockout itself was phenomenal, but the quality of the victory as a whole, not so much. In the rematch, Marciano defeated Walcott again, but if the first fight was against such a faded Walcott, the second won’t hold any more value. A good name on Marciano’s list, even with Walcott completely past his prime, but beating such a faded fighter losing arguably 3 of his last 4 fights cannot place Marciano very high.
Ezzard Charles was 33 at the time of his Marciano bouts. However, he was in a position similar to Walcott’s. Despite being younger than Walcott, Charles had been in over 90 fights with 10 losses, wearing down his body a lot more quickly than the likes of today’s boxers. Also like Walcott, Charles was only 2-2 in his last 4 fights prior to Marciano. Despite being a prime natural heavyweight against a past prime light heavyweight, Marciano was barely able to squeak out a 15 round decision. Imagine if Charles hadn’t been through all that wear and tear, Marciano would have been in huge trouble. The same can apply to Walcott, had he been in his prime, considering the masterful clinic he displayed for 12 rounds, even when he was well past it. In the rematch, Marciano was in danger of being stopped by Charles due to cuts before finally knocking him out. Considering all of the advantages Marciano had, these wins remains simply good and far from great.
This brings us to Archie Moore. Moore was 39 years old, had 175 fights with 19 losses, and was past his prime by far. One fight prior, Moore fought at 175, knocking out Bobo Olson, and immediately moved to heavyweight to meet with Marciano. Marciano, a heavyweight, was fighting someone who campaigned at light heavyweight just three months earlier. As the heavyweight champ, one would expect Marciano to be defending his title against heavyweights, but he was more of a blown up light heavyweight champion since those were the best opponents he was fighting, and washed up versions of them on top of that. Despite having every imaginable advantage, again, Marciano got dropped by a nearly 40 year old Moore who was well past his best. Marciano defeated Moore, but that is what he should be expected to do, given all the advantages he had. He shouldn’t be getting special praises for that.
Marciano retired after only 8 years and 49 fights in an era where the likes of Walcott (70+ fights in 23 years), Charles (110+ in 19 years), and Moore (200+ in 28 years) fought many more times and over longer periods of time. Had Marciano tried to step up the the level of fighter that Walcott, Charles, and Moore were and continued his career, he would have been demolished by Sonny Liston around 1960, only five years after Marciano’s retirement. Although you cannot criticize Marciano for his opposition, as it was the best available, he cannot be rewarded highly for it at the same time. So, looking at the context and facts surround Marciano’s victories, it is clear that the status as the only undefeated heavyweight champion is not as great a label as it sounds. To his credit, Marciano did defeat the underrated Rex Layne prior to becoming champion, but his victory over Layne does not outweigh the aforementioned victories, and we saw they were far from what is needed to be considered great in the deep, deep history of boxing.
Now, we move on to the era of belt holders, where more than 68 belts are available in 17 weight classes (an addition of 9 classes), making it so much easier for fighters to call themselves 2, 3, 4-division champions while holding on to meaningless titles. Before fans of certain fighters claim that fighter X is so amazing for defeating fighter Y, who was a 3/4/5 division champion, it is important to look at things in perspective. Robert Guerrero can be called a 4-division “champion” by today’s standards because of the meaningless belts he holds at 126, 130, 135, and 147. He even skipped 140, so he might have been a 5-division “champion.” Adrien Broner of all people is also considered a 4 division “champion.” Do these false labels put fake belt holders like D-class Guerrero and Broner in the class of the elite?
Henry Armstrong won 3 belts in 3 weight classes, and in reality is a 4-division champion for his robbery in a title fight at 160. Can any knowledgeable boxing fan say that Guerrero and Broner are on the level of Henry Armstrong, who was also in reality a 4-division champion? Obviously not, because title holders are no longer real champions like they were in the older days when boxers were vastly superior to those that compete in the weak and watered down era of today. Armstrong won from 126 to 147 (and was robbed at 160) when there were no 130, 140, or 154 divisions to pad up his resume. And there was only one belt available for Armstrong to win. If he wanted to hold a title, he couldn’t pick and choose between a Ring/WBC/WBA/WBF/IBF/IBO intercontinental, silver, gold, or interim title against a bum. He had to fight for ONE belt against ONE champion. So please keep in mind that a person’s number of title defenses in this era do not equate to being great. Otherwise, Artur Grigorian with 17 weak WBO defenses would have to rank ahead of lightweights with less consecutive defenses such as Duran, Whitaker, Arguello, De La Hoya, Mosley, Buchanan, Ike Williams, and many more. Fighting so-called champions holds no value whatsoever on the sole basis of holding a belt, so calling fighter X great for defeating 10, 15, or 20 “world champions” of garbage quality is worthless and means absolutely nothing.
2) Ricardo Lopez, 51-0-1 (38) – Lopez was a great all around fighter, but unfortunately 105 has the least history and talent out of all divisions on boxing. It is hard to truly gauge how good Lopez is as a pound for pound fighter when his best win was Rosendo Alvarez in a split decision. You cannot fault a fighter for being in a weak division or era, but you cannot give them special treatment for it at the same time. For that reason it is hard to give Lopez a great ranking even though he did pretty much everything he could under the circumstnaces.
3) Joe Calzaghe 46-0 (32) – There was a recent article on the truth behind Joe Calzaghe’s career, so we will revisit that a little bit. Chris Eubank was completely past his prime, losing 2 of his last 6 fights prior to Calzaghe after going unbeaten in over 40. He lost both of his remaining fights after Calzaghe, proving that he was far past an elite fighter. All of Calzaghe’s meaningless title defenses started with a vacant belt he won in a match against Eubank, a completely washed up fighter, so the belt was worthless.
Robin Reid gave Calzaghe massive problems before losing a split decision. Malinga defeated Reid right before Calzaghe did, and Silvio Branco did the same immediately after. I don’t hear anyone claiming that Malinga or Branco are all time great boxers for doing what Calzaghe did, and they did it in more convincing fashion.
Calzaghe padded his “champion” status against the likes of Byron Mitchell, Mario Veit, Charles Brewer, and Evans Ashira. If any decent boxer went against that kind of competition, they could end up with 100 title defenses. Calzaghe then defeated an extremely hyped Jeff Lacy. Lacy’s best win was Robin Reid, and he only had 21 fights prior to Calzaghe. A completely shot Roy Jones stopped Jeff Lacy when Calzaghe could not even do that, so I don’t know how that is a very credible win. I don’t hear anyone exclaiming how magnificent a shot Jermain Taylor is for defeating Jeff Lacy, so it boggles me how Calzaghe is given special treatment.
Sakio Bika and Peter Manfredo are paper champions with zero credible wins. Bute and Mendy are not showered with praise for beating Bika, and Sergio Mora is not highly praised for beating Manfredo. Calzaghe deserves nothing different. Kessler is the only boxer Calzaghe legitimately beat that was in his prime and a solid boxer. One good win in 46 fights is far from remarkable, however. Kessler did beat Froch, and aside from losing the rematch, that’s about all he’s done. A good win, but this one good win is far from enough to consider Calzaghe anything special.
Calzaghe’s win over Jones holds no credibility whatsoever. Tarver and Glen Johnson beat less washed up versions of Roy Jones three years prior to Calzaghe. They are given good praise for it, but nothing near as strong as what irrational Calzaghe supporters give him for the Jones win. The version of Jones that Calzaghe faced was horrendous, and he still dropped Calzaghe.
I saved Hopkins for last, because this is the only instance Calzaghe fought someone who was truly elite and not washed up. Still, a 42-year-old Hopkins isn’t the same boxer that shut out Antonio Tarver. Here, Calzaghe was gifted a horrible gift decision. Compubox stats are the most unreliable stats in all of sports, and the fact that this is used as the justification for Calzaghe’s victory shows how illegitimate the “win” was. Fights are judged round by round, not by compubox.
If compubox were infallible, people would pay to look at the stats, not the fight. Enzo Calzaghe certainly knew that compubox wasn’t helping his son before the final round of the fight. From time to time, corners say things to get their fighters motivated. But angrily screaming “What are you doing?” “It’s OVER.” “You’ve gotta stop him. You’ve GOT to stop him.” doesn’t sound like mere motivation. If Calzaghe’s corner was confident of a victory heading into the final round, they wouldn’t be telling a below average puncher to take extra risks to knock out someone with an iron chin who has never come close to being stopped, on top of having a nearly impregnable defense. Masterfully countering your opponent with effective shots (even dropping Calzaghe once) is much more impressive than aimlessly throwing a large volume of punches to hit the air, back of your opponents’ head, and their arms and shoulders with light tapping shots that don’t come close to doing anything effective. And the dejected expression of Calzaghe prior to the reading of the scorecards only further proves that.
Even if this win is legitimate, which it isn’t, Jermain Taylor had already been there and done that twice. Not only that, he did it two lower classes at Hopkins’ natural weight, where he had been the undisputed champion and was closer to his prime than when he fought Calzaghe. Taylor’s two wins over Hopkins, atlthough they were close and could have gone either way, were far more credible than Calzaghe’s robbery, and the circumstances surrounding Taylor’s wins were far more impressive than those surrounding Calzaghe’s. Yet, Calzaghe is given special treatment for beating Hopkins two weight classes above his natural weight, almost three years later, and in a fight that Hopkins clearly won, unlike the Taylor Hopkins fights with multiple swing rounds. Somehow Taylor remains a simply good boxer, but the “almighty” Calzaghe is elevated to legendary status. That does not add up.
Calzaghe did nothing remotely impressive enough in his career to be considered great. It was only after 43 fights that he finally starting fighting legitimate opposition in a solid Kessler and an elite Hopkins. Every half-decent boxer has been there and done that with regards to beating Lacy, Mitchell, Bika, Manfredo, and boxers who legitimately defeated Calzaghe’s opponents (Hopkins and Jones) under far more impressive circumstances, and without as much controversy (with regards to the Hopkins robbery) are not considered great, so Calzaghe gets no special treatment for doing the same thing in even less impressive fashion. Calzaghe’s resume is the definition of deception and a farce, and having one legitimate win over Kessler in 46 fights isn’t any knowledgeable person’s idea of greatness.
4) Sven Ottke – Ottke won a meaningless title from Brewer, and defended it against the likes of Branco, Butler, and Mundine.. Hardly the resume of a quality champion, especially when you factor in that the belt wasn’t even rightfully his. Charles Brewer easily outboxed Ottke, only to get robbed. Even in the rematch against Brewer, Ottke needed a debated split decision.
Glen Johnson was the best opponent on Ottke’s resume. Glen Johnson is solid, but if that’s your best opponent, then there’s no way you can call yourself great. Especially when you got another gift decision against him to keep your zero alive.
Ottke’s good luck continued, when favorable refereeing and judging got him a win against Robin Reid. My goodness, they say that a blind squirrel can find an acorn every now and then, but that’s only supposed to happen once in a while, not with the consistency that Ottke benefited from. It is incredulous how someone like Ottke could have so much in his favor and be given so many fortunate decisions. His weak competition, on top of the fact that he had more controversial decisions that can be remembered show how weak he is as a boxer.
5) Floyd Mayweather – Out of all undefeated boxers, Mayweather is the most accomplished. That is not much of a compliment, especially when looking at his resume. He brags about being undefeated for 18 years, when he only fights between two to three times a year, and takes nearly two year vacations from the sport. If a boxer does so little, and against the likes of Guerrero and Ortiz, one would at the very least expect them to be undefeated with such low standards, rather than shower praises for being undefeated. Here is the so-called “amazing” resume of the greatest pound for pound boxer of today.
1) Genaro Hernandez – Zero wins over elite fighters in their prime. Only a champion due to the weakness of the division.
2) Diego Corrales – Did not even fight one elite fighter in his prime outside of the overrated Mayweather. No, Castillo is not elite, and he still knocked out Corrales in the rematch. Someone who gets dominated by Joshua Clottey and Joel Casamayor is not elite. For the pound for pound rankings to have put Corrales ahead of an all-time great middleweight (Bernard Hopkins) and heavyweight (Lennox Lewis) on the basis of beating weak competition like Juuko and Manfredy show how meaningless rankings are, and for Corrales to be a champion shows how weak modern divisions and belts are.
3) Jose Luis Castillo – B class fighter who got robbed in the first fight. Mayweather is the only elite fighter to lose to Castillo, not a very good distinction
4) Arturo Gatti – specifically referred to as a C-class boxer by Mayweather. No elite wins
5) Zab Judah – lost in literally every meaningful fight he ever had
6) Carlos Baldomir – zero wins over elite boxers
7) Oscar De La Hoya – 2-2 in his last 4 fights prior to Mayweather, actually 1-3 considering his gift decision over Sturm. Completely past his best. Shane Mosley and Felix Sturm already beat better versions of Oscar before Floyd did, so Mayweather doesn’t get any extra credit.
8) Ricky Hatton – best wins are Kosta Tzyu (did nothing outside of beat Zab Judah), a shot Castillo, and weak Malignaggi. Pound for pound rankings of Hatton and his best win (Tzyu) were horribly put together.
9) Marquez – one of only two credible wins on Mayweather’s resume. Somewhat diminished due to the huge weight difference
10) Shane Mosley – almost 40 years old, been through multiple beatings, went 1-3-1 after the Mayweather fight, proving how past his prime he was. Vernon and Winky masterfully defeated better versions of Mosley, so Mayweather doesn’t deserve special treatment for this win
11) Miguel Cotto – past his prime after his loss to Antonio Margarito, but a good win nonetheless. His victory over Martinez does not hide Cotto’s regression, since Martinez had regressed even more. Two credible wins in 18 years is far from great.
12) Canelo Alvarez – zero wins over elite boxers
13) Marcos Maidana – zero wins over elite boxers. Roger Mayweather himself has confirmed this.
Mayweather’s spot as the top boxer in the sport at the moment shows how inferior the quality of today’s boxers are when compared to the old. And no, boxers have not been getting better, faster, and stronger since the old days. Swimmers and sprinters may be getting faster, but boxing isn’t swimming and sprinting. Boxing doesn’t depend on being faster or stronger.
If being faster or stronger was as big of a factor as the blind sheep believing the hype of the new school make it out to be, fast boxers like Meldrick Taylor, Zab Judah, Hector Camacho, Manny Pacquiao, and strong hard hitting boxers like Julian Jackson and Earnie Shavers would be the absolute best of the best in boxing history. There is a reason no modern athletes in their respective sports have come close to the likes of the old school like Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Willie Pep, Harry Greb, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Jerry Rice, and dozens of other examples.
If athletes are getting better, then Bernard Hopkins, nearly 30 years since his first fight, wouldn’t be the best light heavyweight in the sport today at age 49, despite being far from the fastest or strongest. George Foreman at age 45 wouldn’t regain his heavyweight championship 20 years after losing it, despite having very little speed in his second run. Lennox Lewis wouldn’t have TKOd a prime version of the next generation of heavyweights, Vitali Klitschko, when Lennox was 38 years old, in his last fight, and in the worst shape of his career, in contrast to the extremely well-conditioned, prime, and youthful Vitali. I thought speed, strength, and conditioning were supposed to be making the newer boxers so much better, but that is obviously just a bunch of nonsense spewed by blind sheep who automatically believe what they are told without thinking for themselves
If boxers get better as the years go by, then the heavyweight division wouldn’t have regressed from the likes of Young, Norton, Holmes, Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Bowe, Holyfield, Mike Spinks, Tyson, and Lewis to the likes of the Klitschkos, a former middleweight in James Toney, Sam Peter, Chris Byrd, and John Ruiz.
Likewise, the welterweights wouldn’t regress from the likes of Napoles, Gavilan, Burley, Leonard, Hearns, Duran, Whitaker, Ross, Armstrong, and Robinson to the likes of Mayweather, Pacquiao, Maidana, Broner, Guerrero, and Ortiz (with regards to the latter, all are considered multiple-division champions by today’s soft standards). Dozens of more examples can be cited. Do the new school want to mess with this? The old school is one of the best yet. They’re nice like that.
The undefeated boxers are a product of good fortune, weak eras, and regression of athletes over the years moreso than their own skill. The undefeated boxers have a lot in common with each other.
1) Gift decisions
- 1) Mayweather Castillo 1
- 2) Ottke vs several boxers
- 3) Calzaghe vs Hopkins
2) Fighting boxers moving up in weight
- 1) Mayweather vs Marquez/Hatton/Guerrero
- 2) Marciano vs Walcott/Moore/Charles
3) Fighting past prime opponents
- 1) Mayweather vs Cotto/Mosley/Oscar
- 2) Marciano vs Louis/Walcott/Moore/Charles
- 3) Coincidentally, Walcott and Charles prior to fighting Marciano were 2-2 of their last 4, with Walcott being arguably 1-3 factoring in the questionable decision over Charles. Likewise, De La Hoya was 2-2 and in actuality 1-3 of his last 4 with his robbery over Sturm.
4) Accumulating meaningless titles and defenses to pad up one’s numbers as a “champion” and/or taking advantage of the slim difference in weight classes to falsely call oneself a multiple-division champion
- 1) Mayweather on both fronts – admitting himself that Gatti, who was his only fight at 140, was a C-class fighter. This shows how even Mayweather unintentionally proved how meaningless his claim to being a multiple division champion is. He goes around claiming he is a 5-division champion, and then turns around and unintentionally acknowledges his 140 title is fake having come against the likes of a C-level boxer. With regards to the latter, Mayweather has only fought between 147 and 152 in his last 3 fights, yet he holds two belts in two weight classes. That slim five pounds is what makes a two-division world champion?
- 2) Calzaghe with regards to the former – All of Calzaghe’s 168 defenses, were meaningless. Any half-decent super middleweight could have accumulated 100 defenses against the likes of Reid, Sheika, Veit, Brewer, Mitchell, Ashira, and Lacy
- 3) Ottke with regard to the former – his entire career consists of weak opponents and gift decisions.
5) Fighting weak competition overall, in a weak era, and being at the right place and right time
- 1) Marciano – coming up when Charles, Moore, Walcott, and Louis were past it, and retired after only 8 years. Five years later, Sonny Liston developed into the perfect boxer to crush Marciano, making him a very fortunate person to have retired earlier.
- 2) Lopez – the 105 division has always been shallow
- 3) Calzaghe – Hopkins, Jones, and Eubank were past their best, and the 168 division was unbelievably weak.
- 4) Ottke – Glen Johnson, who was robbed by decision, is the best opponent he fought
- 5) Mayweather – Mosley, Oscar, and Cotto being past their prime, feasting on lower-level opponents like Gatti, Ortiz, Guerrero, and Maidana
6) Having little to no credible wins by the standards of great boxers
- 1) Mayweather against Marquez and Cotto, absolutely nobody else on his career is an impressive career for the standards that Mayweather has set. Oscar and Mosley were washed up moreso than Cotto, Hatton had no impressive wins, etc.
- 2) Calzaghe’s only legitimate win is against Kessler. The Hopkins win was not legitimate, Jones and Eubank were well past their best.
- 3) Marciano with zero credible wins, since all his best wins are against washed up light heavyweights
- 4) Lopez’s biggest win being a split decision over Alvarez
- 5) Ottke’s gifts give him zero credible wins
Whitey Bimstein was correct. If you can find a boxer with an undefeated record, the chances are he hasn’t done anything too impressive. Maybe when boxing becomes more of a sport than a business, we can bring back the high quality boxing that seldom exists anymore. Otherwise we will be stuck watching boxers accumulate meaningless belts and defenses, incorrectly referring to themselves as 3, 4, 5 division “world champions,” and having all-time great boxing businessman trick people into believing that his greatness is in what he does inside the ring, rather than outside of it.