Whether we like it or not, one of the biggest reasons why boxing is so popular and has remained so popular over the years and will never be overtaken as a spectacle by other fighting arts is the knockout. Fans flock to fights because they want to see a knockout, fans tune into fights because they want to see someone get floored, fans became fans because there was someone like Mike Tyson knocking everyone out in style. So in this article I am going to have a look at ten of the best punchers the sport of boxing has ever seen. It is too hard to choose who is number one so this list will not be in order of who is the best puncher in history.
It’s only fair we start with Iron Mike Tyson. Although Tyson may not have been the biggest puncher amongst the heavyweights, he undoubtedly is the poster boy for aggressive, hard punching, big knockout artists that fans love to see and fighters hate to be up against. Ruthless, intimidating, fast, strong, powerful, Mike Tyson is the most intimidating boxer in history and the most exciting fighter in history. No one could put bums on seats like Iron Mike did and only Muhammad Ali could rival his popularity. Tyson won 50 times and ended 44 of those inside the distance, there have been harder punchers than Tyson and faster punchers than Tyson but no heavyweight has combined the two to hit as fast AND hard as Tyson did. His signature moments are many, but his knockouts of Trevor Berbick to win the title and Michael Spinks stand out as his very best.
It’s a shame that the two fights Foster is arguably most remembered for, were against two of the greatest heavyweights ever, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. In an era which lacked a cruiserweight division, Bob Foster hit so hard at light heavyweight, he had to fight at heavyweight and battle with boxers who outweighed him by as much as 40lbs. An all time great at light heavyweight, Foster possessed a fast and hard jab as well as a lethal left hook. Foster hit so hard that Ali described it as like being hit by a mule. The left hook was so vicious it provided a provided some of the scariest knockouts ever when he felled Dick Tiger to win the light heavyweight title in 1968. Adding to his fright night list of knockouts was Mike Quarry, whom he hit so hard that people were genuinely worried for Quarry’s life as he hit the deck. Foster knocked out 46 opponents in the professional ranks out of 56 wins and is also said to have knocked out 89 of his amateur opponents in 94 victories.
At the time of his death in 2010 aged just 28, Valero had fought 27 times and was a two weight world champion. His record was 27-0 and each one of his fights had ended the same way – by knockout. Unsurprisingly Valero holds the record for the highest knockout percentage in boxing history with 100% but he also began his career with 18 consecutive round one KO’s. Valero was well on his way to super stardom at the time of his death with a potential fight against fellow southpaw Manny Pacquio on the cards. Who knows just how great this fighter from Venezuela would have become had it not been for his death, without doubt though, as he was expected to move upto light welterweight he would have been in the mix amongst the best names of the sport alongside Floyd Mayweather Jnr and the aforementioned Manny Pacquio.
When you end up with a nickname like Bazooka, that tells you all you need to know about how good a puncher the puerto rican boxer Wilfredo Gomez was. Gomez was such a good puncher that he won 17 consecutive title defences by knockout, when you’re a champion there are no easy fights, to beat all of these opponents by knockout is astounding. Gomez won his first fight on the scorecards and then reeled off 32 knockouts in a row. It took moving up a division and facing one of the all time greats in Salvador Sanchez to snap his KO streak. Gomez also participated in a battle of the knock out kings when he came out on top against Carlos Zarate who was at the time 52-0 51 KOs, arguably the most memorable moment of his career. Gomez finished his career with 42 knockouts in his 44 wins in a career which saw him conquer three weight classes.
Hamed may have only been a featherweight but very few if any ‘little’ men hit harder than Hamed. Possessing brutal power in both hands, Hamed could land a knockout blow at any point in the fight and with either hand, and it didn’t matter if he was in position or not or balanced or unbalanced. His tremendous power made him one of the most popular fighters in the world in the 90’s and he is undoubtedly one of the most exciting fighters to have graced the sport of boxing. An extremely gifted boxer who could have gone on to become much more he retired from boxing when he should have been entering his peak aged just 28 having knocked out 31 of his opponents out of his 36 wins. In a career full of highlight reel punches, his knockout of Kevin Kelley on his American debut in what was a fantastic fight is arguably his most famous knockout.
Before there was Mike Tyson, before there was George Foreman, there was Sonny Liston – the most intimidating man boxing had ever seen. Liston had freakishly long arms for a man of 6ft 1in – his reach according to many was 84in and was longer than the 6’3 Ali’s when they faced off and longer than all but a handful of heavyweights to have entered the ring. Liston had a vastly underrated jab but no one was underrating his left hook or uppercuts, coming from his 15in shovel like hands, had it not been for Ali, Liston would likely have ruled the heavyweight division in the 1960’s. His demolition of Floyd Patterson, on both occasions – demonstrated just how hard he could hit and how quickly he could end a fight. Liston didn’t have a fast start to his career in terms of knockouts, six of first eight wins went to the scorecard but then he turned the tide and began dismantling his opponents with his power. His next 42 wins included 37 KO’s.
Cleto Reyes – Real Punchers Gloves….
Archie Moore was the knock out king, in the history of boxing, no man can claim to have knocked out more opponents than Archie Moore. The number of men who had fallen to the canvas at the hands of Moore is a staggering 132. They say power is the last trait which leaves a boxer, Moore kept on boxing across four decades in a career spanning from 1935 to 1963 and proved this to be true, he won his first fight by KO and then his last fight by TKO. Moore was one of the greatest fighters of all time and arguably the greatest light heavyweight in history, his epic battle with Yvon Durelle in which Moore himself was knocked down multiple times but came back to win by KO in round 11 will go down as one of the greatest title fights in history.
McClellan rose to prominence in 1991 when he knocked out the big hitting John ‘The Beast’ Mugabi in just one round to win the WBO middleweight title. He would add WBC title when he knocked out another fellow big puncher in Julian Jackson less than two years later. He defended his WBC title three times and each time he ended the fight in the first round, including a repeat dose for Jackson in their return match. The G-Man was such a hard hitter that of his 29 knockouts, amazingly 25 came within the first two rounds and he had to wait until his 11th fight before an opponent was able to take him into round three. Sadly the fight he is most remembered for was his loss to Nigel Benn in which McClellan suffered life changing injuries.
Julian Jackson was a light middleweight and middleweight champion who fought between 1981 and 1998 and had 49 knockouts in his 55 wins. Jackson provided a highlight reel of one punch knock outs and there are still many who view him pound for pound as the most concussive one punch hitter in history. In boxing sometimes you need a get out of jail card, and there is no better card than having the power to turn a fight upside down in a single moment. This was best demonstrated by Jackson against Herol ‘Bomber’ Graham. Graham was a slippery fighter out of the famous Ingle gym in Sheffield, England which would later go on to produce world champion names such as Naseem Hamed, Johnny Nelson and Kell Brook. In typical fashion Graham was slipping and moving, beating Jackson to the punch but in an instant, with defeat beckoning, Jackson unleashed one of his famous bombs and connected with a huge right hand which had Graham unconscious before he had even hit the canvas.
After there was Sonny Liston, there was a former sparring partner of his – George Foreman. Not only was a young Foreman more intimidating than Liston, he hit harder than him too, he obviously learnt from Liston extremely well during their times together in camp(and Foreman was intimidated by Liston). George Foremans punching prowess carried through the Olympics as a gold medallist and then as champion of the world when he knocked out the previously unbeaten and fellow all time great Joe Frazier in just two rounds, the signature knockout of his career was commentator Howard Cosell exclaiming ‘Down goes Frazier!’ as Foreman dropped Frazier six times in just two rounds. Adding to Foremans list of hammer blows were his demolition job of another of the 70’s top heavyweights Ken Norton, again in two rounds and his epic battle with the big punching Ron Lyle, in which Foreman won a see-saw fight in round five. Foremans punch was to carry him to another world title win at age 45 proving even at that age he was punching hard enough to knock out heavyweights. He retired with 68 KO’s in 76 wins.
Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns
When Hearns was making a name for himself in the amateur ranks no one would have guessed he would go on to become one of the most feared punchers in history. Under the tutelage of legendary trainer Manny Steward, Hearns turned into a ferocious puncher. Standing at 6’1 his tall and lanky frame provided the leverage for explosive punching power as he terrorized the welterweight division. His height and punching power allowed him to move up in weight and still possess a punch scary enough to worry the bigger men he was gradually going up against. Hearns finished his career as a cruiserweight, showing just how skilful and hard a hitter he was. His knockout of the great Roberto Duran was his signature knockout in a sterling career which featured 48 knockouts in his 61 victories.
If Ernie Shavers was fighting in todays era of heavyweights, his punching power would have made him the number one star in world boxing, if he was fighting today he would likely be a world champion. Shavers is widely regarded as having the hardest punch in history – when Muhammad Ali calls you the hardest puncher he has faced, over the likes of George Foreman and Sonny Liston, you better sit up and take notice. But it is not just Ali who called Shavers the hardest, Larry Holmes who has fought both Shavers and Mike Tyson also paid homage to Shavers as the hardest hitter he stepped inside the ring with. Shavers had a streak of 27 straight KO’s and included in his 74 wins were 68 KO’s. The testimonials to Shavers power are many…
Tex Cobb – ‘Nobody hit harder than Ernie Shavers, if anybody hit harder than Ernie Shavers I would shoot him’.
Muhammad Ali – ‘Earnie hit me so hard, he shook my kinfolk back in Africa’.
Ron Lyle – ‘Earnie Shavers. The ground came up and met me. That’s all I remember’.
James ‘Quick’ Tillis – ‘He hit me so hard he brought back tomorrow. When he hit me… I was seeing pink rats and cats and animals smoking cigarettes. I was in the land of make-believe’.
Who do you think deserves a mention in the list? To read part II in the series click on the link – HARDEST PUNCHERS PART II
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 *Any videos or images used on this site to support my articles that are copyrighted are used in accordance to the fair use act and are not my own - all credit is due to the respective owners. No copyright infringement intended.
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