Ali, Mayweather and Marciano not the true ‘Greatest of All Time’
By Jaime Ortega: The 50’s and down was unquestionable the best era in boxing history. I am a fan of old school boxing, and admirer of competitiveness. I watched endless tapes of old boxing, and hold a nice collection. I am not against boxing today, but I think we completely overrate boxers today, especially comparing them to boxers in the past. Simply not true.
To name either Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano or Floyd Mayweather Jr. the best ever or even top 10, is simply laughable to absurd – especially the last two. A lot of old school boxing aficionados crown Cassius Clay the greatest pugilist of all times based on his record to overcome loses and prove non-believers and haters wrong while branding himself greatest of all time [GOAT]. Yes Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Henry Cooper were tough cookies — no doubt! But his losses against Ken Norton, Larry Holmes and Leon Spinks, lack enough credentials to consider Ali top a 10 fighter – he also lost against Larry Holmes. Ali did not dominate, he overcame challenges, but as I will explain later he lacks on other departments to be considered a top 10 boxer. Out of the 3 I will discuss, Muhammad Ali was no doubt the one who fought tougher opponents. He could make top 20.
Rocky Marciano was no doubt a natural born killer. 43 knockouts, with 49 wins shows an impressive record in today’s boxing standards. He beat an old Joe Louis. He beat Jersey Joe Walcott, who obtained the record of becoming the first old man to beat the heavy weight division at the age of 37; that record was later taken by George Foreman. Rocky also convincingly defeated a technical wizard on Ezzard Charles – knocked him out in the second bout. He beat Archie Moore a crafty boxer who still holds the record of 131 knockouts in boxing history. But is that enough to categorize Marciano GOAT? In fact, that is not enough, he shouldn’t even be top 20 – and I am being nice here. Marciano to a degree is an anomaly in Golden-Era boxing because other conditions started to emerge. However, to call him the best ever is a joke.
Lastly, Floyd Mayweather Jr. one of the greatest defensive boxers to exist alongside Pernell Whitaker and Willie Pep. Undefeated, Floyd Jr. is the greatest counter boxer of his generation. His technical skills proved too much to handle for his rivals. He defeated Diego Corrales, Miguel Cotto, Canelo Alvarez and arch nemesis Many Pacquiao in a rather boring, but intriguing match-up. He retired from boxing, holding a 49-0 record, beating 46-0 Joe Calzaghe; tying Rocky Marciano and two bouts away from beating Ricardo Lopez undefeated 51-0-1 record. Floyd beat more world champions than anyone else in boxing history, but is that enough to be TBE or even top 10? Nope, in fact he would be lucky to be considered top 20. Once again, he is in the same boat as Rocky Marciano no matter how skillful people think he is. Some name him over Marciano, and others say he is better, but as a boxing analyst I really see no difference between the two as I will explain bellow – and no, I don’t mean fighting styles.
But it’s not really only the three mentioned above; Vladimir and Vitally Klitschko, De La Hoya, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, Many Pacquiao, Lennox Lewis and innumerable others share the same ranking paradox – and could never achieve top 20, never mind top 10. I am going to explain the reason behind why I consider these boxers to be of a lower pedigree.
1) Number of fights per year. Unlike today, boxers in the Golden Era of boxing 1920-50’s had an incredible amount of fights under their belt. The average boxer fought 12-17 fights per year, many breaking over one hundred and others breaking over 200 fights. That is tremendous fight pace for any current boxer to undergo; in fact no boxer today that I know of, takes more than 5 fights per year. If Marciano, Floyd or Ali would have fought that excessive amount of pro-fights in their careers, not only would they had felt overwhelmingly stressed with non-stop action leaving significant signs of wear and tear, but their undefeated streaks would have easily evaporated. I don’t care who it is, but any boxer can tell you, that it takes a special boxer to fight 12-17 pro-fights per year. That no longer exist.
2) Round average. Another problem ranking modern boxers comes with the short round per-fight average compared to past fights. During the 1920-50’s, 15 to 20 round fight bouts were normal whereas today we only have 12. The addition of a few more extra rounds might not be of much significance to those who’ve never competed before — but it is a big deal! One that can win fights, especially evenly paired and competitive bouts. Many boxers rely more on condition and stamina, than in their boxing ability to win fights; so if on later rounds low stamina plays a deterrent issue for skilled boxers, it likewise can easily be a de-facto reason for any low stamina technician to get knocked out. The modern day 12 round set-up is an advantage to low stamina boxers. The body condition of old school boxers was not only greater than today given the extensive fight schedule, but each bout had longer rounds which meant greater stamina and an opportunity for lower skilled boxers to overturn a loss with a sudden knockout. I don’t see any boxing organization, promoter or manager advocating to increase fights to 15-20 round bouts like the Golden Era days — I wonder why—tougher probably!
3) Lack of tape. Unlike the Golden Era, during the 60’s recording fights became a good way to study tape to prepare for opponents. But having no tape to study and analyze opponents would present formidable challenges for any coach today, especially against unknown challengers. So fighting in the Golden Era of boxing was superfluously difficult, if we consider no tape existed to study opponents outside of hearsay and direct ring attendance. Just imagine if Joe Gans or Sugar Ray Robinson were your next opponents and you knew little to nothing about them outside of what your manager and coaches learnt from hearsay. As a boxer you would have to adapt to the circumstances and the unknown ability of your opponent to win the fight– unlike reliance on video observation, today you wouldn’t know much about your opponent without it. And I don’t mean spar, I mean a real fight! – So every fight would be extremely hard to win.
4) Competition. Most people don’t know that during the Golden Era, boxing was just as popular as football and baseball (back then, the three major sports). There was no MMA, K-1, Bruce Lee, or other martial art forms to compete outside of boxing. What that meant is that competition swelled among boxing, and many people around the world followed and competed in the sport. After War World Two, the sport for whatever reason fell on decline and competition diminished. That stresses a big problem because when we rank boxers, the only way to assure greatness is really by fighting more competition—the more the better. When Sugar Ray Robinson 200-19-6 fought, Henry Armstrong 181-21-10 in 1943, he fought a remarkable boxer with a legendary boxing legacy. Ali, Marciano or Floyd beat Joe Frazier, Ezzard Charles and Many Pacquiao and none had the caliber of Henry Armstrong, nor his experience. But even the so called lower level opponents in the Golden Era like Denny Moyer 140-38-4 or Ralph Jones 52-32-5 were capable to out-score Sugar Ray Robinson and shows the incredible level of competition and talent not prevalently present in unknown boxers today — only the ones with big names are considered top notch. Denny Moyer, Carmen Basilio and Randy Turpin would have had a joyride in today’s boxing scene, considering the tedious state of competitive boxing in America compared to the past – I only named three unknown boxers but they were many more – many tougher opponents than what competition can offer today, probably harder to fight than most current world champion tittle holders. To call unknown old school pugilist cab drivers and bums, is to call modern day boxers weak, scared and fragile. The level of competition today is very poor, so any current world champion has beaten other fighters who also fought a poor and limited supply of boxers in amateurs to become champions; that was not the case during the Golden Era of boxing. ‘B’ fighters in the past could easily defeat ‘A’ level boxers today.
5) Taking on multiple weight classes and divisions. This is no mystery. Unlike today, where they are 17 weigh class divisions, in 1823 they were none. The Walker Law in 1920 changed everything, giving more leeway and fairness to the sport, but only 8 divisions were created. If you were a boxer in the 1940’s & down, catch weights did not exist, you either made weight or vacated. So to become a three consecutive three weight division champion was very tough and severe goal to achieve. Remember there were only 8 divisions, so those who dared to venture fights in other divisions to become world champions, generally jumped in today’s standards the equivalent of two weight classes up, or two weight classes down to retain or challenge belt holders. I might be blind, but I would like to know anyone in today’s boxing scene who might not be a world champion but at least fights in multiple divisions under multiple weight classes – I doubt you will find one – never mind the equivalent of moving or receding two weight classes!
6) Ducking. There is no doubt that in the past, the mafia had a huge influence on boxing, and fix fights were undoubtedly predominant in the sport and affected all fighters and house bets– but there is a difference between diving and ducking. Today the issue is less diving and more ducking. Boxers today, fight each other based on outcome records and would rather take on an easier opponent having multiple loses, than one with no loses regardless of the quality of the opponent – Kell Brook, Danny Garcia, Billy Joe Saunders are modern day examples of ducking and what’s wrong with the sport; in other words price fighters. In the past boxers fought whatever was available because there was really no way to measure opponent quality, outside of tittle shots and tickets sold during popular staged match-ups — PPV’s did not exist. There were a few exception of course related with ducking, but as I will point later, none related with price fights. Today exist a boxing disease that makes boxers avoid tough challenges and take on weaker opponents instead. Undefeated doesn’t mean quality, especially fighting lower level opponents. Ducking is one of the main reasons fighters today avoid tougher matches. Again the Golden Era of boxing showed, much harsher competition without much ducking involved.
To finish I have nothing but outer respect and admiration for Ali, Marciano, Floyd Jr. and other modern day boxers that started in the 60’s and up. They boxed good quality opponents and have great records, but they are by no means top 10 tiers, much less considered GOAT. None of the fighters above and presently, handle fighting 12-17 times per year – and have no doubts they would lose many fights. None of those three boxers fought over one hundred pro-fights, never mind two hundred and over. That automatically disqualifies Marciano and the rest to become GOAT. Fighting 15-20 round bouts, as I pointed above played a de-facto key to victory in fights during the Golden Era, especially boxers who did not rely on technique, but had confidence on their stamina to win – boxing fights can be won many different ways and that is just one of them. Boxers today don’t jump up and down different weight classes because they are simply scared to get punished, even though ironically, they’re 17 divisions per-pound today making it easier to achieve a world title – not the case in the past – catch weights also did not quite exist.
The boxing competition level in the past made any lower class opponent fighting for a title shot a formidable challenger to beat. Competition was harsh all over the world, thus why Joe Louis lost the first fight to Max Schmeling, an unknown boxers from Germany; to say the opposite is to say Sandy Saddler was at the same level of Calzaghe, Floyd Mayweather Jr, and Ricardo Lopez – simply not true. Boxers today study tape to analyze and concentrate on the weaknesses of their opponents the day of the fight; in the past, boxers had to freestyle their way out to victory because there was no tape available to study, only hearsay accompanied with coaching advice. Ducking is worst now than ever before, to deny it, is to suggest mandatories should be avoided for the sake cherry picking price fights.
Jack Dempsey perhaps was the only fighter who exemplified ducking during the Golden Era, so it was only fair that his legacy got tarnished by the all-star boxing organization’s decision to degrade his ranking as a result of avoiding African American boxers– because some would have undoubtedly beat him! Ultimately boxing started in early 19th century, so to suggest boxing technical skill levels are highly superior now, compared to the past is simply absurd. The work ethic was if anything probably higher then, than today, just as people in the past worked 16-18 hour labor days to survive as compared to now—people worked much harder then. Hard work and dedication make a boxer. In my opinion the jab evolved, but had they known, they would have easily adapted it into their game plan and master it. Boxers today would not be happy to replicate the laws and competitive streak of The Golden Era of Boxing, and now you know why — it would overwhelm many boxers and make the best today, simply look ordinary. But I bet one thing, it would be highly more entertaining.
So who are the top ten in history?
1) Sugar Ray Robinson: 175-19-6-2
2) Henry Armstrong: 151-21-9/ Harry Greb: 298-17
3) Willie Pep: 230-11-1
4) Joe Gans: 120-8-9
5) Jimmy Wilde: 141-3-1
6) Sam Langford: 167-38-37-3
7) Benny Leonard: 219-24-8-4
8) Archie Moore: 183-24-10-1
9) Sandy Sadler: 162-16-2
10) Marcel Cerdan: 117-4
11) Roberto Duran: 103-16
12) Jack Johnson: 104-13-10
13) Up to you…
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