By Ken Hissner: Ring Magazine’s founder in 1922, Nat Fleischer, felt Jack “Galveston Giant” Jackson, 54-11-9 with 39 knockouts, was the best right up until his death in 1972. He fought from 1908-1915.
After three non-title fights, Jackson came off the canvas in the first round in his first defense, stopping middleweight champion Stanley “The Michigan Assassin” Ketchel, 48-4-3, in 10 rounds. Then he stopped former champion James J. Jeffries, 19-0-2, who hadn’t fought in six years and had to lose 100 pounds.
Johnson drew the “colored line,” not wanting to fight the top colored boxers, and went to Paris, France, and fought to a draw with the no. 6 colored fighter Battling Jim Johnson, 28-10-5.
After five defenses, he was knocked out by Jess Willard, 22-5-2, in twenty-six rounds.
In Willard’s second defense, he was destroyed by our second heavyweight on the list Jack “The Manassa Mauler” Dempsey, who ended 53-6-8 with 43 knockouts.
In Dempsey’s fifth defense, he was knocked out of the ring by Luis Firpo, 25-2, from Argentina in the first round after dropping Firpo seven times in the first round. In the second round, after three knockdowns, Firpo was knocked out.
In Dempsey’s next fight, he lost to Gene “The Fighting Marine” Tunney, 63-1-1, before 120,000 in attendance. Two fights later in the rematch, Dempsey had Tunney on the canvas for the “long count,” standing over him when the new rule to go to a neutral corner had been created, giving Tunney an extra five seconds to get up and go onto defeat Dempsey what would be his final fight.
Tunney, our number three fighter, had one more defense and retired at 65-1-1 with 48 knockouts. His only loss for the American light heavy title was to Harry “Pittsburgh Windmill” Greb, 195-10-16, who he later went 3-0-1 in their four fights.
Number four is Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis, who was 24-0 when he lost to former champion Germany’s Max Schmeling, 48-7-4. Eight fights later, he won the title, knocking out Jim “Cinderella Man” Braddock, 51-25-7.
In his fourth defense, Louis knocked out Schmeling and went on to defend his title twenty-five times, a heavyweight record. He ended up 66-3 with 52 knockouts.
In his final fight as a former champion, Louis was knocked out by our fifth fighter Rocky Marciano, 37-0, who it was said cried after the fight due to Louis being his “hero!”
Marciano was 42-0 when he won the title, knocking out “Jersey” Joe Walcott, 49-18-1, in the thirteenth round, too far behind to win a decision. A stablemate of Marciano’s, Hank Cisco, went into the Walcott dressing room and overheard the ring physician say “This man should never fight again due to a bone broken under his eye.” The mob controlled Walcott and threw him into the rematch, and he was knocked out in the first round. Think they had their money on Marciano?
Marciano had six defenses ending with a final defense stopping light heavy champ all-time knockout king Archie “Old Mongoose” Moore, 149-19-8, coming off the floor himself in the second round. He floored Moore four times before putting him away in the ninth round, which was his final fight ending at 49-0 with 43 knockouts.
Our sixth fighter was then 1960 Olympic Gold Medalist Cassius Clay, later becoming a Muslim taking the name Muhammad “The Greatest” Ali after stopping champion Sonny Liston, 35-1, in 1964 in five rounds after four even rounds improving his record to 20-0.
In the rematch, Ali landed what was called the “anchor punch” that only his trainer Angelo Dundee felt though Ali backing up landed enough power to drop Liston, who rolled and rolled around on the canvas until former champ Walcott finally counted him out in the first round.
After eight defenses, Ali had his license revoked for not entering the military and not fighting for forty-five months before getting his license back. His defense was never quite the same, as he was then able to be hit more. Prior to this, he had the fastest hands and feet of any champion. He was 29-0 when he returned after two wins lost in a title fight to “Smokin” Joe Frazier, 26-0, being dropped in the final round.
Ali had his jaw broken in losing to Ken Norton, 29-1, by a split decision. He would go into defeat Norton twice after that. He also had a rematch with Frazier defeating him twice, with the second one named “the Thrilla in Manila” stopping him after fourteen rounds.
Prior to this, Ali won the title for the third time, stopping champion and former 1968 Olympic Gold Medalist “Big” George Foreman, 40-0, in what was called “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire, Africa. That is when he introduced the “rope-a-dope” without even his trainer Dundee knowing he was going to use it to have Foreman punch himself out before being stopped.
In 1978 Ali lost to 1976 Olympic Gold Medalist Leon Spinks, 6-0-1, by decision. In the rematch, he defeated Spinks, and his corner cut-man Dr. Ferdie Pacheco quit the corner and told Ali not to continue fighting. Ali went on to lose in his next fight to our seventh fighter Larry “The Easton” Assassin, Holmes, 35-0, being stopped for the first and only time. He lost in his next and final fight to former champ Trevor Berbick, 19-2-1, in Nassau, ending his career with a 56-5 and 37 knockout record.
Holmes was 48-0 when he lost to 1976 Olympic Gold Medalist and light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks, 27-0. He made the remark, “Marciano couldn’t wear my jockstrap,” referring to being one fight from equaling Marciano’s 49-0 record. Prior to the loss, Holmes was fortunate to get the decisions over both “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon, 15-0, and Carl “The Truth” Williams, 16-0, this in his fight before losing to Spinks. In the rematch with Spinks, he lost by a disputed decision. Then he was stopped by our number eight champ “Iron” Mike Tyson, 32-0.
Ali, prior to the fight, entered the ring touching the gloves of Holmes and went to the Tyson corner, and whispered something in his ear. Only the two of them know what he said. Future US President Donald J. Trump had been sitting with Holmes at ringside.
It was Tyson’s fifth defense. After stopping Berbick for the title, he defeated former champs James “Bonecrusher” Smith, 19-5, stopping Pinklon Thomas, 29-1-1, and IBF champ Tony “TNT” Tucker, 34-0.
Then he stopped 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist Tyrell Biggs, 15-0. He would go on to stop former champ Tony Tubbs, 24-1, Holmes and then UK’s Frank Bruno, 32-2, and Carl “The Truth” Williams, 22-2, before being stopped by James “Buster” Douglas, 28-4-1, in ten rounds after having Douglas down in the eighth round.
In Tyson’s next fight, he knocked out the man who defeated him twice in the Olympic trials Henry Tillman, 20-4, in the first round. He’d win another six fights before losing to our ninth fighter, former cruiser champ Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield, 32-3, by stoppage in eleven rounds.
Then being DQ’d after biting the ear of Holyfield in the rematch. He ended up with a 50-6 with 44 knockouts record. One of his losses was to our number ten fighter, former Olympic Gold Medalist and then world champ Lennox “The Lion” Lewis, 39-2-1.
Lewis won the title in 1993, defeating Tony Tucker 48-1. In his third defense, he lost to Oliver “The Atomic Bull” McCall, 24-5, by stoppage while having his hands to his side. Five wins later, he re-won the vacant title stopping McCall.
Five fights later, he was held to a draw by Holyfield, defeating him in a rematch in their next fight. He would lose to Hasim Rahman, 34-2, and beat him in the rematch. In his final two fights, he stopped Tyson and future champion Vitali “Dr. Ironfist” Klitschko, 32-1, who is our eleventh fighter by a cut in six rounds, being behind on points and retired with a 41-2-1 record with 32 knockouts.
Klitschko, two fights later, stopped Corrie Sanders, 39-2, for the vacant title who had defeated Klitschko’s brother, our number twelve fighter Olympic Gold Medalist Wladimir “Dr. Steelhammer” Klitschko, who ended his career at 64-5 with 53 knockouts. He won the title, stopping the man who defeated his brother Vitali, Chris Byrd, 39-2-1. He had eighteen defenses before losing to current world champion Tyson “The Gypsy King” Fury, 24-0.
There you have it, these twelve former world champions in Johnson, Dempsey, Tunney, Louis, Marciano, Ali, Holmes, Tyson, Holyfield, Lewis, and the Klitschko brothers. Who, in your opinion, was “the Best?”