Boxings Best Finishers – Who are they?


boxings best finishers

The Killer Instinct – Boxings Best Finishers

What is the killer instinct? It is the ability to finish your opponent hurt when you see you have broken their defence and they are hurting, it is a split second decision in which you decide the reward is greater than the risk, when you decide you will go for the knock out, expend all of your energy and bank on your skills enough that you won’t get hit back in the counter exchange and that the fight won’t last long enough for you to be running on empty for rest of the way. Seize the moment.
The margins between winning and losing are small, very often in fights we have seen victories by the slimmest of margins, boxers not taking initiative when they had the small opening. It was only a couple of weeks ago we saw Joseph Parker leave it far too late against Dillian Whyte in an excellent and entertaining match up between the two heavyweights. Just last year we witnessed one of the great heavyweight battles when Anthony Joshua took on Wladmir Klitshcko, the difference between the two was the ability to finish the fight. Klitschko had Joshua on the deck and floundering for a few rounds after the round six knockdown, but perhaps concerned about Joshua’s power he decided not to go in for the kill, allowing Joshua to gradually get his breath back, build up a second wind and then take Klitschko apart in the 11th round, when AJ saw he had Klitschko hurt, he didn’t let him off the hook, he went straight in trying to force the knockout and wanting to end the fight, he succeeded…

best finishers in boxing
This happens if you fail to finish off your opponent…

One of the most famous instances was Julio Cesar Chavez Sr when he famously finished off Meldrick Taylor just seconds before the end of their 12 round title bout in 1990. Chavez Sr was behind on the cards and knowing he had to win by KO to secure the win he aggressively pursued and stopped Taylor with just two seconds left in the fight, which to many was considered the fight of the decade.

Then there are fighters such as Muhammad Ali and Evander Holyfield, perhaps not regarded by many as ‘killers’, the problem here though was if you happened to hurt them, they turned it up a notch and raised their game to another level. They would come back at you hard and want to hurt you more than you hurt them. Ali famously floored the light heavyweight great Bob Foster seven times after suffering a rare cut to the eye from Foster’s spearing jab. There’s also the fight with Chuck Wepner which gave inspiration to the Rocky movies, although Ali wasn’t hurt from a knockdown which he claimed was due to Wepner stepping on his foot, Ali got back up and was in a bad mood, ending the fight shortly in round 15. For his ‘knockdown’ Ali opened up cuts on both eyes as well as breaking Wepner’s nose.
Holyfield always wanted to prove a point, if you hit him hard or shook him, he would come right back at you, never afraid to hang with the big boys in the heavyweight division despite often being the much smaller of the two, his fights and toe to toe brawls with the big daddy’s Riddick Bowe and George Foreman are testament to this.

Having that killer instinct is almost like having that great one punch knockout ability, if this was a game of Monopoly, it is your get out of jail card. Pouncing on your opponent when you smell blood, when you sense there is even a sniff of a chance of a victory is an ability very few boxers are able to master, just like having natural punch power, you either have it or you don’t. Here’s my take on some of the best finishers in boxing.

Joe Louis
The Brown Bomber rarely failed to take advantage of an opportunity when he saw his opponent was hurt. Ranked by The Ring magazine as no.1 on their list of boxings greatest ever punchers, Louis was always calm and calculated when he went in for the kill. Most famously his killer instinct was shown in full against Billy Conn, behind on the scorecards and suffering from dehydration, Louis was able to step it up and end the fight in round thirteen.

Roy Jones Jr
Jones was just a pure athlete with explosive punching power. You always had to be wary of where his next big punch was coming from, if he caught you with one, be very afraid because he was always following it up with a series of more punches. If you happened to get up from a knockdown, RJJ would literally be waiting ready to run in for another go.

Naseem Hamed
Like Roy Jones Jr, Hamed was an explosive puncher and just as entertaining as Jones too. Ever the showboat Hamed wanted nothing more than a spectacular way to end the fight which meant he was always ready and waiting for that chance to knock you out. When it came, Hamed would be leaping in with even bigger shots if you had the misfortune of getting up from one of his knockdowns.

Mike Tyson
No surprises with this choice, the baddest man on the planet was all about the knockout. Well versed in the art of intimidation, Tyson wasn’t just beating you up, he was reading your body language, looking into your eyes just waiting for any sign he could come in take your soul. If he sensed there was any weakness or you were hurt, Tyson would be steamrolling in to finish you off any which way he could…

Mike Tyson's killer instinct
Good luck fighting this guy off if you’re hurt…

Deontay Wilder
There aren’t many great finishers in boxing today but undoubtedly the heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder is one of them, if not the best of them. Wilder has an unorthodox style which only plays to his advantage when he sees you are hurt. Coupled with arguably the best one hit punch power in the game today, Wilder comes in all guns firing and all arms slinging when he senses a chance for the KO. If you are hurt against Wilder, then your chances of winning are practically zero, Wilder WILL finish you off.

Terence Crawford
The three weight champion isn’t just the best boxer in the world, he is one of the best finishers in the game too. With an abundance of talent and variety of skills, Crawford breaks you down and then when the time is right, he goes in for the kill and doesn’t stop until the job is done.

Sugar Ray Leonard
Perhaps the greatest finisher of all time, Leonard had one of those special traits only a truly great boxer has. Leonard could raise his game in the final championship rounds, somehow finding a reserve of energy to either drive his stake through his opponents will or completely turn the tide of the fight in his favour. Some of his most notable performances include his wins against other legends of the ring, Wilfred Benitez and Thomas the ‘Hit Man’ Hearns. The latter in which Sugar Ray Leonard was behind on the scorecards before summoning that instinct for rounds 13 and 14 before the fight was ended.

Was Sugar Ray Leonard the best finisher in boxing history?
Sugar Ray Leonard – perhaps the greatest finisher of them all

Honourable Mentions

Julian Jackson – When you hit as hard Jackson did, it’s no surprise he knew if he had you hurt, his best bet was to unload as many of those mega bombs as possible.

George Foreman – Another monster puncher, the earlier Foreman liked nothing more than finishing you off as quickly as possible, using his ring craft to cut off the ring as if he was hunting his prey. His finishing ability was on full display in both of his fights against Joe Frazier.

Roberto Duran – At lightweight Duran was arguably the greatest ever. Duran always a little crazy and always looked like he wanted to separate you from your senses. Hands of Stone was at his best in the lightweight division where his relentless pressure and punching power would finish off just about anyone he stepped in the ring with.

Oscar De La Hoya – When the ‘Golden Boy’ had you hurt he wasn’t the golden boy any longer, he was quite the nasty boy and his one-two combinations would be rattling off in quick succession to ensure the game was soon over.

About the author 


Boxing Coach
Strength and Conditioning Coach
Boxing Author of:

The Boxing Cheat Sheet - Your Ultimate Guide to Ring Survival

Strength and Conditioning for Boxing - Work out Hits to get you Fighting Fit!

Forgotten Legends of the Ring - Ten Past Masters of the Squared Circle

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