Heavyweight boxing stands at the top of the boxing tree, the marquee division has often been the middleweight division, today it is the welterweight class but we all know the stronger the heavyweight division is, the stronger the sport of boxing is. The heavyweight champion will always have a head start as the face of boxing, little wonder then that the most recognisable and most popular boxers in history were both heavyweight champions, Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. Now with the rich history of the big men, it is pretty difficult to compile a list of the greatest ever especially if that list is numbers 1-10 or more so I am only going to attempt to list my top five heavyweights of all time…
5. Larry Holmes
Now this may surprise a few people but it really shouldn’t. The main reason Holmes is overlooked as one of the greatest ever heavyweights is because he is almost the lost man in the middle, his career was sandwiched between the two most famous boxers in the history of the sport, Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. It would have been well nigh on impossible to succeed Ali and pretty much impossible to provide the excitement that a Mike Tyson could bring. There is also the matter of the heavyweight division going into decline after the golden years of the 1960’s and 70’s so Holmes wasn’t faced with the same level of opposition as those who went before him and those who came after his reign in the 90’s – another strong era of heavyweight boxing. Holmes though, despite a short amateur career had the chance to learn the game as a sparring partner of Muhammad Ali and developed a jab which could be termed as the greatest we have ever seen. Holmes dominated during his time as a heavyweight and his 20 successful title defences place him third in the list. With his machine gun like jab which was not only fast but very powerful, Holmes was able to outbox his competition but he also proved he had the chin of a champion when he took a thunderous punch from Earnie Shavers(arguably the hardest puncher of all time), got off the canvas and continued to dominate and win the fight. The Easton Assassin makes my top five heavyweights of all time.
3b. Lennox Lewis
Now I’m not really going to have a number 4 – it just doesn’t sound right to say Lewis is the 4th best heavyweight ever so it’s a two way tie with the next one on the list. Truth be told I wasn’t a huge fan of Lewis, I just found his style a little mundane but hey I was just a teenager for most of those years Lewis was a champion. No one can deny though that Lewis was a special fighter and he really took off when he teamed up with one of the greatest boxing trainers we have ever – Manny Steward. Lewis could do it all really, he could outbox you behind his jab if he wanted to, but he could also rough you up if the fight demanded it and he could also blow you out of the water with his punching power if the time was ripe for it. Lewis also came out on top during an era heavyweight boxing was very strong, Lewis took on the best the division had to offer and beat them all, if they did happen to beat him, as was the case with Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman – Lewis came back and completely dominated them. Holyfield, Tyson, Morrison, Razor Ruddock, Ray Mercer, Vitali Klitschko, David Tua, Shannon Briggs, Frank Bruno, Tony Tucker, Tyrell Biggs all were beaten by Lewis. That resume alone deserves to make Lennox Lewis one of the greatest heavyweights of all time.
3a. George Foreman
I find Foreman’s case to be quite intriguing, much like Larry Holmes I don’t think Foreman gets the respect and appreciation a man of his boxing talents deserves. Foreman is often seen as the man outsmarted by Muhammad Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle and is known for his brute power but when you look at his career, both before the Ali fight and when he came out of retirement a decade later, it is quite clear Foreman was an exceptional heavyweight. Foreman was an Olympic Gold medallist so we can immediately see he had pedigree but as he started his pro career, he was blasting out everyone he came up against, this included two of the best in a strong decade, Joe Frazier and Ken Norton, let’s not forget he also came back from the Ali fight and knocked out another of the best at the time, Ron Lyle in what was one of the best heavyweight slugfests you could hope to see. What makes Foreman deserving of his position in the top three heavyweights though is how he returned after 10yrs and went on to win the heavyweight title aged 45. Fair enough power is the last trait which leaves a boxer but Foreman was able to adapt his game according to the differing stages of his career, as one of the most intimidating fighters of all time, quickly demolishing opponents in his youth to a more mild, calm and patient fighter in his 40’s, Foreman became a champion in his 20’s and then in his 40’s. If that’s not the mark of a great boxer then I don’t know what it is.
2. Joe Louis
Now we are getting to the point where the final two boxers on this list were bigger than the sport of boxing itself. Joe Louis was a cultural icon in the USA and a real hero of the country. Carrying the hopes of not just African Americans but also the focal point of anti-Nazi sentiment as he twice battled with Germany’s Max Schmeling, there was a tremendous amount of pressure on the shoulders of Joe Louis every time he stepped into the ring. Thankfully for Louis and his many fans, his punching power was as tremendous as the pressure he was facing and under the watchful eye of his trainer Jack Blackburn, he ruled the division with his calm, calculated and efficient style of fighting. Taking Louis out of his element was impossible as he remained composed at all times except when he smelt blood, then Louis would jump all over you and finish the fight, few if anyone was better at ending the fight than Joe Louis and he also still holds the record for the most title defences at 25. Louis was 58-1 and still the champion when he decided to call it a day and it was only problems with his taxes that forced him to come back and fight at a level not befitting his talents as a man now in his mid to late 30’s. Louis was ranked as no.1 puncher of all time by the ring magazine and many list Louis as the no.1 heavyweight of all time too but in my list, number one is reserved for a man who was like Louis with the cultural aspect but then took it to another level…
1. Muhammad Ali
He called himself the greatest so often that eventually he did become the greatest….Ali elevated his rank above the sport of boxing and became the face of boxing and maybe even the face of sports in the 20th Century. For all the impact Ali had as an African American, a black muslim who changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali and his stance against the war resulting in Ali being robbed of his prime years as an athlete and fighter, behind all of this was a rare fighter of the likes we have not seen since. Ali was 6’3 and 210lbs, big for his time but what set him apart was his speed. No heavyweight before or since has been able to move the way Ali did or punch as quick as Ali did. Ali ruled the heavyweights in his 20’s during the 1960’s – a strong era in the division and then came back from a 3yr ban to eventually come out on top in another decade of strength for the heavyweights in the 1970’s and this too at a time Ali was past his peak and in his 30’s. Just like George Foreman, Ali was able to adapt his game as his age progressed and of course defeated the young champion in George Foreman in the 1974. When Ali’s speed declined he discovered he was actually an extremely smart fighter with a high ring IQ as well having one of the greatest chins of all time too, in his youth he was so fast he could simply box rings around people and beat them on his speed alone but an older Ali was also able to out think his opponents and beat them this way too. Ali took on all comers, fighting the best of his time and giving everyone a shot to dethrone yet Ali would still rule the roost, amongst the greats Ali defeated were Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman and Ken Norton but every contender had their chance yet Ali continued to remain on top. Ali revolutionized the sport and heavyweight boxing and is my choice as the number one heavyweight of all time.