By Anthony Mason: Over time, certain boxers are forgotten as the sport moves on. It’s important to look back on some of the lesser known boxers of the past, and appreciate what they contributed to the sport. If it weren’t for the great boxers of the past, the way would not have been paved for those of the present. I assembled a small list of some of the underrated boxers of the past and thought it would be a good idea to look back and appreciate their accomplishments. This list is not in any order of ranking, and the exclusion of other underrated fighters is not any indication of their ranking either.
1. Antonio Cervantes
Cervantes had the misfortune of losing a split decision to the defensive master Wilfred Benitez. This made Benitez the youngest champion in boxing history at the age of 17, at a time where being a champion actually meant something.
Before losing to Benitez, Cervantes was the light welterweight champion after defeating Alfonso Frazer in 1972. Frazer had just recently defeated Niccolino Locche, widely recognized as one of the greatest defensive boxers of all time, to become the 140 lb champion.
Cervantes would then defend the title against Niccolino Locche himself and in a rematch against Alfonso Frazer. Cervantes stopped Locche in 9 rounds and Frazier in 5.
A little under a year before losing his title to Benitez, Cervantes would successfully defend it against Esteban de Jesus, a man who everybody recognizes as the first to defeat the great Roberto Duran. Cervantes’ accomplishments may have cemented him as the greatest Colombian boxer of all time.
2. Ernesto Marcel
Most people remember Marcel as a victim of a Roberto Duran stoppage. Duran was the only person who ever stopped Marcel in his entire career, albeit controversially in the last round (Duran would have won on the scorecards regardless). Marcel, however, had a very accomplished career that is often overlooked. He was a great inside fighter with good handspeed and mixed it up with good movement. This can be seen in his fight against Duran.
Antonio Gomez had defeated Antonio Cervantes a few years before he won the WBA featherweight champion in 1971, and he also defeated an unbeaten Esteban De Jesus at 130. He then lost his 126 lb. title to Marcel in a 15 round decision. Marcel would successfully defend his title against Gomez in a rematch.
In the last fight of his career, Marcel defeated the great Alexis Arguello, and retired as featherweight champion. Arguello as we all know went on to defeat many great fighters such as Ruben Olivares, Jose Luis Ramirez, Vilomar Fernandez and Ray Mancini before losing a great battle to Aaron Pryor.
3. Sumbu Kalambay
The Zairian-Italian Kalambay had a great jab, and he was also a good defensive fighter with good counterpunching. Unfortunately for Kalambay, he was on the wrong end of a highlight-reel first round knockout against Michael Nunn. Still, Kalambay’s resume only makes Nunn’s knockout that much more impressive.
In three consecutive fights, Kalambay defeated Herol Graham, won the WBA Middleweight title against Iran Barkley, and successfully defended it against one of the most underrated middleweights of all time, Mike McCallum.
Right after that, he defended his title against solid competition in Robbie Sims and Doug DeWitt before losing to Michael Nunn. After losing a rematch to Mike McCallum in a split decision in 1991, he would defeat Graham a second time before beating Steve Collins. That would remain the last loss of Collins’ career.
4. Azumah Nelson
Nelson is fairly well-known within the boxing community, but even then I feel that people don’t realize how good he really was because of his defeat to Pernell Whitaker. He was a great all around boxer with power, but he could still make it through a brawl if he had to.
Pat Cowdell was an underrated boxer that gave the great Salvador Sanchez a tough fight, and lost a close split decision. Azumah Nelson knocked out Cowdell in just one round. Styles do make fights, but for Nelson to knock out Cowdell in one round is still a huge accomplishment regardless.
Nelson also fought Sanchez himself, and although he was stopped in the 15th round it was a difficult fight for Sanchez that had him behind on one of the scorecards. A loss is a loss, but many fighters have shown their greatness in defeat, such as Holyfield against Bowe and Jersey Joe Walcott against Rocky Marciano. Azumah Nelson proved the same in his defeat against Sanchez.
Nelson also knocked out Wilfredo Gomez and Jeff Fenech, and has proven himself as the greatest boxer to come out of the African continent.
5. Young Corbett III
There is very little footage of Corbett, but he did appear to have great hand speed and a good inside game in his match against Jackie Fields. We can get a better grasp of how skilled he was by looking at his accomplishments as a fighter
On his way to the welterweight title, Corbett had to defeat Ceferino Garcia twice. This is the same Ceferino Garcia that Henry Armstrong defeated to win the welterweight title in 1938. Shortly after beating Garcia, Corbett defeated Jackie Fields and took his welterweight title.
Corbett then jumped up one weight class to middleweight and defeated one of the greatest middleweights of all time in Mickey Walker. He also defeated another all-time great boxer, Billy Conn, even knocking him down on to a . Billy Conn would go on to give Joe Louis one of his most difficult fights of all time before getting knocked out in the 13th.
6. Holman Williams
Williams was a slick fighter with great footwork and a good jab. One of Williams’ greatest rivals was another defensive master in Charley Burley. Burley is another extremely underrated boxer, and we will get to him shortly. Williams would go 3-3 with 1 No Contest in his 7 bouts against the great Burley.
He also defeated the great middleweight Jose Basora. In Sugar Ray Robinson’s prime during his first 131 fights, Basora was one of only three people to fight Ray Robinson and not lose. Henry Brimm and Basora fought him to a draw, and Lamotta was the only man to defeat Robinson.
Williams was also undersized when he went up against Lloyd Marshall, another very underrated boxer that we will examine. After splitting his first two meetings with Marshall, Burley would win the rubber match.
Holman would then achieve one of his greatest accomplishments when he defeated the all-time great light heavyweight Archie Moore, despite barely weighing more than a middleweight.
7. Charley Burley
As mentioned before, Burley was another very underrated boxer just like his rival Holman Williams. Like Williams, Burley was an amazing defensive fighter. The short amount of Burley’s footage against Billy Smith is a great exhibition of defensive and counterpunching mastery. You can even see traces of a prime Roy Jones in his style. Even outside of Holman Williams, Burley had a career stacked with great accomplishments.
Two of Burley’s biggest wins came against Fritzie Zivic in 1938 and 1939. Zivic would go on to defeat Henry Armstrong twice in 1940 and 1941 to take his welterweight title. Burley also defeated Jack Chase three times. In between his losses to Burley. Jack Chase defeated the great Archie Moore at middleweight. Archie Moore would avenge his loss to Chase, and shortly after fight Burley himself.
Burley ended up dropping Moore four times in a lopsided decision. In case anybody has forgotten, this is the same Archie Moore who cemented himself as one of the greatest light heavyweights of all time, and when he was almost 40 years old and completely past his prime, gave serious problems to a heavyweight like Rocky Marciano, even dropping him. In almost 100 fights, Burley was never stopped once.
Burley’s accomplishments are nothing short of unbelievable, especially since he was so often the smaller man in his fights. Once, Burley faced a not so elite fighter by the name of J.D. Turner, but the small middleweight Burley was outweighed by almost 70 pounds. Burley stopped Turner in 7.
8. Lloyd Marshall
Marshall was mentioned earlier as one of Holman Williams’ best wins, but Marshall was a highly accomplished boxer in his own right. Marshall, like Holman Williams and Charley Burley, was a great counterpuncher, and he also had a good blend of speed and power.
One of his biggest wins came against Charley Burley in a match where Marshall knocked him down. Shortly after that, he knocked out one of the all-time great light heavyweights, Ezzard Charles, in a match where Charles was knocked down repeatedly.
Marshall would also defeat Jake Lamotta, known as the only man to defeat a prime Sugar Ray Robinson. Marshall would then avenge his earlier loss to Holman Williams before losing in the immediate rematch. Right after his loss, however, he bounced back with extremely impressive back-to-back wins over Joey Maxim and Jack Chase.
9. Jimmy Bivins
In only his 15th fight, Jimmy Bivins defeated Charley Burley. Shortly after beating a young Joey Maxim, the dangerous slugger Jimmy Bivins beat a prime Ezzard Charles in a match where Charles was knocked down three times. Ezzard Charles had just won two fights apiece over both Charley Burley and Joey Maxim, in addition to knocking out Jose Basora once.
Bivins would then go on to knock out Lloyd Marshall and Archie Moore, both at light heavyweight. He remained undefeated until he ran into Jersey Joe Walcott, losing a split decision and perhaps his only chance at a title fight. Bivins would never get a title shot due to the politics of the time, and even Joe Louis questioned why Bivins didn’t get such an opportunity.
10. Sammy Angott
Angott’s style was not the most pleasing, his nickname of “The Clutch” being due to his tendency to hold and wrestle. But he must have been doing something right looking at his accomplishments
One of his earliest wins came against Petey Sarron, who had not lost a fight since losing his featherweight title to the great Henry Armstrong. Angott went on to win the lightweight title against Lew Jenkins. Shortly after that, he became the first man to defeat the greatest defensive fighter of all time, Willie Pep. Angott would later on TKO Ike Williams, who most boxing fans regard as one of the greatest lightweights of all time.
11. Lou Ambers
Ambers was a very good inside fighter, as proven in his battles with Henry Armstrong – the greatest inside fighter of all time. One of his biggest wins came early in his career against Cocoa Kid. Kid is another underrated fighter who defeated the likes of Holman Williams and Jack Chase.
Ambers faced one of his biggest challenges gainst Fritzie Zivic, when he suffered a broken jaw. He found a way to pull through, and overcame his injury to win a decision.
Later on in Ambers’ career, Tony Canzoneri, one of the greatest lightweight boxers and pound for pound fighters in the history of the sport, defeated Ambers to win the lightweight title. Ambers would win back his title from Canzoneri and successfully defend it against Canzoneri in their third and final fight.
After avenging another one of his losses to Pedro Montanez, to win the lightweight title again, Ambers would take on the great Henry Armstrong, losing his title once more in a split decision. As he did with Canzoneri and Montanez, Ambers found a way to come back and avenge his defeat and won back his lightweight tile from the second greatest pound for pound fighter of all time.
Other fighters not included on this list; Ayub Kalule, Mike McCallum, Carlos Palomino, Tiger Flowers, Bennie Briscoe, Rodrigo Valdes, Nino Benvenuti, Dick Tiger, Jack Chase, Cocoa Kid, Randy Turpin, Beau Jack, Jose Basora, Kid Gavilan, Harry Wills, Marcel Cerdan,