Boxing, by its very nature is intimidating. It’s not easy stepping into the ring to fight another person, it’s just you against them, one on one but there are always fighters who have that extra edge to them, these fighters cause their opponents to second guess and doubt themselves and sometimes the fight is lost before the bell is rung, the fighter has given in to intimidation and reputation. Below is my list of the top 5 scariest fighters the sport of Boxing has ever seen. There aren’t many rules to this except to be on the list, to be scary – you also had to be scary good. All of these Boxers were elite fighters which only added to their intimidation. That means some Boxers, who may have been scary outside the ring or just plain crazy(both in the case of Ricardo Mayorga) failed to make the cut.
5. Carlos Monzon
“I always loved Carlos Monzón. He was a tough guy, for real, a guy from the streets, He didn’t talk much. He didn’t need to. The ring belonged to him.”
That is what Mike Tyson had to say about Monzon, if Tyson calls you a tough guy, you know you’ve got a scary boxer on your hands.
Before Argentina fell in love with the sensational footballer Diego Maradonna, there was another sportsmen whom they adored. Carlos Monzon was an Argentinian Boxer who ruled the Middlweight Division in the 1970’s. Widely regarded as one of the greatest ever Boxers the Middleweight Division has ever seen, he lost just 3 times in 100 bouts and went undefeated in his last 81 fights before retiring in 1977 which included 14 successful defenses of his Middleweight titles, amongst the great names he defeated were Emile Griffith and Jose Napoles.
But behind the success inside the ring, was a turbulent life outside of it. Monzon was a violent character, his merciless style in the ring would carry over into his personal life. You would be forgiven if you saw a picture of Carlos Monzon and thought you were instead looking at a picture of the infamous ‘Night Stalker’ Richard Ramirez, the dark eyes often looked like a void signalling an absence of all emotion. As an amateur Boxer the warning signs were already visible, jailed for inciting a football riot as well as stints in prison for fighting. When fame came knocking, like many others he was unable control the rage inside him and the bigger stage only exposed his flaws further.
Monzon liked to drink, a devastating cocktail when combined with a short temper, Monzon’s personal life would be marred by abusive behaviour towards his women and towards any paparazzi who dared uncover his numerous alliances with various females. When Monzon completed the jigsaw by appearing in the movies and beginning an affair with Argentina’s most famous actress, Susana Gimenez, the writing really was on the wall and the downward spiral began.
In 1973 Monzon was shot twice by his first wife but unfortunately he continued to physically abuse the women he was romantically involved with and would continue to send to the hospital paparazzi reporting his bad behaviour, dishing out beatings to both. The behaviour would continue long after he retired when on Valentines day of 1988, with his then wife Alicia Muniz the pair were involved in an altercation. Forensic evidence was to show Monzon strangled his wife before throwing her off the second floor balcony. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the murder.
The tragedy of Carlos Monzon does not end there. In 1995 Monzon was given day leave from prison. Returning to prison on the evening of January 8 Monzon lost control of his vehicle and died in the crash. The cold, chilling and relentless fighting style of Carlos Monzon was not without reason and hid a darker side to his nature which evidently would lead to his demise.
4. Sonny Liston
You might know Sonny Liston as the opponent then Cassius Clay defeated to become Heavyweight Champion of the World for the first time, or for the symbolic picture of Clay, fighting for the first time as Muhammad Ali, standing over Sonny Liston yelling him to get up from a 1st round knock down courtesy of ‘the phantom punch’ but the life and times of Sonny Liston was much more than that, and to this day is still shrouded in mystery, from the unknown date of birth to his unsolved death, Sonny Liston was one of the most mysterious and scariest fighters the sport has ever seen.
It can be argued, when Liston was in his peak in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s there had never been a fighter, let alone a Heavyweight who was as intimidating as Liston was. With his thick set physique he could unleash terrifying power, especially in his left hand. The left hand would twice knock out Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson within one round. Behind that was a cold and chilling stare, his empty expression told the story of troubled life.
Liston was the 24th, yes you read that right, 24th child out of his fathers 25 children(across two marriages). Beaten ferociously by his father whilst growing up, he began working the fields at the age of 8 and not long after joined up with a gang. This led Liston to involving himself in armed robberies and plenty of trouble. For his violence and crimes, the young man nicknamed by the police as ‘the yellow shirt bandit’ would end up in prison and it was in prison he discovered he was also a pretty handy Boxer.
Liston would go onto fight 54 times winning 50 of them and becoming Heavyweight Champion of the World. Unfortunately for Liston, becoming a professional Boxer did not mean it was the end of his violent streak. Liston would continue to beat people in and out of the ring, including a police officer and he would continue to go in and out of prison. But being a Boxer wasn’t his only job, Liston had close ties with the mob who also owned his contract. His close dealings with organised crime meant Liston would add the job of an intimidator-enforcer to his ring skills. Quite clearly, there was more than one reason he was nicknamed ‘The Big Bear’.
No one wanted to fight Liston, his connections to the underworld and his constant run ins with the law – at one time resisting arrest even after night sticks had been broken over his skull only added to his intimidation factor. Fighters were often beaten before they stepped into the ring and had to look into Listons dark and empty eyes.
The troubled life of Sonny Liston continued long after he had lost to Ali for the 2nd time in 1965. To this day there is speculation and rumors that Liston took a dive in the 1st Round of the fight, was it the mob connections or the newly emerging black separatist group the Nation of Islam? We Will probably never find out but Liston continued to fight 16 more times, winning 15. In 1970 Sonny Liston battered Chuck Wepner, stopping the man who would go onto become the inspiration behind the Rocky movies in the 9th round. Wepner would require 72 stitches to his face to repair the damage Liston inflicted upon him.
A little over six months later, Sonny Liston was found dead by his wife in his home in Las Vegas on 5 January 1971. He had been dead for several days, later official reports would determine he most likely died on 30th December 1970 but due to finding his body almost a week later, the cause of death has never been confirmed. Rumors are many, did he die of a heroine overdose? Was he killed by the mob? With so many dealings with the underworld and knowing so many dangerous figures, who knows who may have been involved with the death of Sonny Liston. One thing for sure is though, Liston was one of the scariest and most intimidating Boxers we have ever seen and will forever be shrouded in mystery.
3. George Foreman
Todays generation might see this name and think of the cuddly looking grandfather who sells a great grill and think what is so scary about him? But the George Foreman of the 1970’s took over the reigns of Sonny Liston as the scariest Boxer in the world and raised it to another level. It comes as no surprise that Big George was a sparring partner of Sonny Liston in the 1960’s and it looks like he learnt the art of intimidation well from the fallen champ. The art of mentally beating his opponents was further harnessed when he took on the former Boxing great Archie Moore as his trainer, who would instruct George to never take his eyes off his opponents and constantly talk into his ear how to intimidate the man standing opposite to him in the ring. George Foreman was as cold as they come, and with arguably the hardest punch in Boxing history he blazed a path through the professional ranks which culminated in a two round destruction of the undefeated champion Joe Frazier to win the World Heavyweight title. Just a year later, Foreman delivered another two round destruction of Ken Norton, another extremely accomplished Heavyweight Boxer who had beaten Muhammad Ali.
George Foreman was so feared, that when Muhammad Ali signed up to fight him, people genuinely feared for Ali’s life, such was the hitting power of George Foreman. His stern and blunt attitude only fueled everyones fear of him even deeper, you’ve got a man who was 6’4 who didn’t talk much and rarely ever smiled, stared right through you, trained with Sonny Liston and could knock you out at any moment. After 40 fights, ‘Big George’ was 40-0 with 37 knock outs.
Foreman is the man who in 1975 once fought 5 men on the same night, one after the other, demonstrating the merciless attitude he showed in the 1970’s to its full, the Foreman of that time was plain crazy!
Foreman had a troubled youth, a recurring theme for fighters who end up utilising the intimidation factor. He was never one for words as a child growing up in Marshall, Texas. He preferred to talk with his fists and would often end arguments with a punch from his shovel like hands. Foreman never knew the man who raised him was not his father, teased by his siblings he never understood the names they called him until it was revealed to him as an adult that his father was actually a man he had never met, named Leroy Moorehead.
Dropping out of school, George Foreman joined the Job Corps to help better his life and it was there he met the man who introduced him to Boxing. George Foreman had natural power, something you couldn’t teach and whilst he learnt the technical side to Boxing, his punching power carried him through to his many wins. Eventually he would top the amateur world by winning gold at the 1968 Olympics and followed it up with a successful career which was a tale of two stories, but in both episodes he would capture the Heavyweight title. in 1994, 20yrs after he had first won the title, George Foreman would become the oldest man to ever become the World Heavyweight Champion, at the age of 45.
George Foreman was so feared that the rumors were in the 1980’s, Mike Tyson himself avoided fighting Big George. For good reason too, Foremans size and style would have been all wrong for Mike Tyson but what a fight it would have been to see those two giants of the sport gearing up to battle each other. Foreman ended his career with 81 fights, 68 knock outs coming in his 76 wins.
2. Roberto Duran
Roberto Duran was crazy. That’s the best way to describe him. Duran didn’t care for much, all he wanted to do was fight and he didn’t really care whether you fought him inside the ring for a million dollars or outside on the street corner for free, as long as he was fighting, Duran was at home and Duran was happy.
His fighting prowess and punching power would earn him the nickname ‘Manos de piedra’ or ‘Hands of Stone’ as Duran would go onto become one of the greatest ever Boxers in history in a career spanning across five decades which won him titles in four different weight classes. Duran was so fearless that he didn’t care much for size, he started his career as a lightweight and despite his relatively short height, would end it in the Super Middleweight division, Duran just kept going and going and fighting and fighting, 119 times in all.
When Heavyweight Champ Joe Frazier met Roberto Duran ringside in 1980, he was asked whether Duran reminded him of anyone…“Yeah,” said Smokin’ Joe, thinking of a mass-murderer. “Charles Manson.”
Roberto Duran was the man Iron Mike Tyson proclaimed as his favourite fighter growing up. The young Tyson saw similarities in himself with Duran. “When I saw Duran fight, he was just a street guy. He’d say stuff to his opponents like, “Suck my f***ing d**k, you motherf***er. Next time you’re going to the f***ing morgue.” After he beat Sugar Ray Leonard in that first fight, he went over to where Wilfred Benitez was sitting and he said, “F**k you. You don’t have the heart or the balls to fight me.” Man, this guy is me, I thought. That was what I wanted to do. He was not ashamed of being who he was. I related to him as a human being. As my career progressed and people started praising me for being a savage, I knew that being called an animal was the highest praise I could receive from someone.”
The description of Duran’s personality from those who knew him only confirmed Tyson’s opinion. When Duran received an ECG before a fight which revealed an irregular heartbeat, Durans trainer who was one of the all time great Boxing trainers, Ray Arcel deadpanned back “That can’t be true, Durán doesn’t have a heart.”
Duran grew up in the rough streets on El Chorillo in Panama. He was born in poverty, the illegitimate son of a US Soldier of Mexican descent who had been stationed in Panama. Duran never knew his father growing up and learnt his smarts in the streets, fighting to survive and finding ways to provide for his mother. His love of fighting eventually led to a Boxing gym and by the age of 16 he had already become a professional Boxer, en-route to becoming arguably the greatest ever Lightweight Boxer in history.
Duran was calm and composed in the ring – and brutal. Always coming forward, feinting, slipping, sometimes even laughing at his opponent. Only a man who was so in love with fighting and enjoying beating his opponent could ever act in the manner Duran did.
1. Mike Tyson
This man needs no introduction. It comes as no surprise that the majority of these fighters are linked in some way, Sonny Liston was scary and out of his camp came an even scarier fighter in George Foreman, Roberto Duran was crazy and a young fan of his fighting style and attitude named Mike Tyson would grow up and forge his career as the baddest man on the planet.
There can be no doubt that Mike Tyson is the most intimidating fighter the world has ever seen, no other combat sport has ever had a fighter who was as feared and as intimidating as a peak Iron Mike Tyson in the 1980’s. Tyson was unpredictable, you never knew what you were going to get with Tyson, whether it was a TV interview or a press conference, people held their breath in case Tyson decided now would be a good time to help you lose ten lbs of sweat. Tyson spoke his mind and never held back, living life under the microscope of being the youngest ever Heavyweight champion would become too difficult for Tyson to handle as his life spiraled out of control.
It wasn’t always this way for Tyson. He did have a troubled youth, a point which is well publicised and the young Mike Tyson was involved with petty crime, robberies, fighting and causing all manner of trouble. But Tyson was also bullied as a child, and it was this feeling of never wanting to be humiliated again which Tyson’s trainer Cus D’Amato channelled. Cus wanted to build a beast, he wanted another heavyweight champion of the world and he wanted to create a fighter who was so scary that everyone in the whole world would fear him. Building up his skills he would also build up Tysons self belief and confidence, the result was the scariest fighter we have ever seen, in any combat sport. The insecure, afraid child would grow up to become the baddest man on the planet.
Unfortunately, like some other fighters in this list, Tyson was unable to control the rage outside of the ring which would in turn have an effect on his fighting inside the ring, but whilst it lasted, many of Tysons opponents were intimidated before the fight and had already lost by the time they stepped into the ring. Tyson took advantage of this and used it as a means of psychological warfare to give him an advantage for the fight. It was Iron Mikes steely stare which gave him any hint of fear from his opponent. Once Tyson sensed fear from his opponent, he was like a shark in the water on the trail of blood and would not stop attacking until his opponent was knocked out.
The choice as Mike Tyson as the scariest Boxer we have ever seen was a no brainer. I’ll let the man himself explain….
“Most guys were just pretty much intimidated. They lost the fight before they even got hit. I knew the art of skullduggery. I knew how to beat these guys psychologically before I even got in the ring with them.
I walk around the ring, but I never take my eyes off my opponent. I keep my eyes on him, even if he’s ready and pumped and he can’t wait to get his hands on me as well. I keep my eyes on him. I keep my eyes on him. I keep my eyes on him.
Then once I see a chink in his armor. BOOM!
And one of his eyes may move and then I know I have him. Then when he comes to the centre of the ring, he still looks at me with his piercing look as if he’s not afraid.
But he already made that mistake when he looked down for that one-tenth of a second. I knew I had him. He’ll fight hard for the first two or three rounds but I know I really broke his spirit.”
Ross was not only a World Champion in three weight divisions, he was also a decorated veteran of World War II after he had retired from Boxing. Ross saved the lives of his comrades in war by fighting off nearly two dozen Japanese soldiers, two of his comrades were killed in the fighting, the third was carried to safety by Ross.
Barney Ross’ father was a Jewish Talmudic Scholar who had high hopes that his son would also go onto become a talmudic scholar but the course of Barney’s life was changed when his father was murdered, resisting a robbery at his grocery store. The family breakdown from the grief which followed led Ross to a life of crime as a youth and into Boxing. His natural ability was evident in street fights and he was employed by none other than the notorious gangster Al Capone.
If you think the name is familiar, thats because it probably is – Sylvester Stallones character in the movie series titled ‘The Expendables’ is named Barney Ross. Now you know who he named the character after, you’ve got to be scary to have a movie character named after you.
If Marvin Hagler wasn’t a boxer, he would still be able to intimidate you just through the way he looked – his bald head and permanent scowl emblazened across his face, you wondered if he ever was capable of cracking a smile. Hagler, like the no.5 on this list Carlos Monzon is regarded as one of the greatest ever Middleweights in history, infact if you were to name a top 3, number 1 would be Sugar Ray Robinson but no.2 would be a toss up between Carlos Monzon and Marvin Hagler.
Hagler possessed brute strength, evident in his 78% knock out rate, he was able to fight out of both styles and was relentless in his will to pressure you, forcing you to quit. What was even more bad news for his opponents was that Hagler refused to go down in the ring, you could forget about knocking him out too, more likely to break your hand against his head, much like Thomas Hearns did in their famous war of 1987.
So that’s my top list for the scariest Boxers – you think I have missed any one out? Let me know who you think should have got the call!
Boxing Coach Strength and Conditioning Coach Boxing Writer for the Ringside Report Boxing Author of: (Available for download on Amazon) 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