Well it is about time I made my own list of the top ten greatest boxers of all time so with it being New Year’s Eve I guess this is the perfect time to write the list to give it that new year’s special feel. It is always hard determining a top ten list of anything, let alone a sport such as Boxing which is steeped in history and so much talent over the years so I did the best I possibly could and I hope you enjoy the list. Now I won’t rank them in order – except for the top three, anything after that you can almost pick and choose where to place many of these all time greats as they are all obviously so good. Anyway let’s get to it and I will start with my number one boxer of all time….
Hardly any surprise here to begin with and little wonder, Robinson is almost unanimously agreed as the best boxer to ever lace up a pair of gloves. Sugar Ray Robinson could do it all, he could out box you, he could out hit you, he could fight on the outside and on the inside. Excellent footwork, excellent speed, power in both hands whether he was going forwards or backwards. Robinson was the greatest combination puncher ever, he possessed one of the greatest left hooks ever including the perfect punch when he knocked out Gene Fulmer with a left hook and in my opinion Robinson also had the greatest uppercut we’ve ever seen too. Much of the Robinsons peak sadly is not available on tape and it was there as a welterweight where Robinson really made his mark, there is enough footage of Robinson as a welterweight on YouTube to clearly see he was ahead of the pack. In over 120 fights before moving up to capture the middleweight title, Robinson lost just once – that too was against Jake Lamotta who came into the bout as a middleweight outweighing the welterweight Ray by 16lbs. What is more astonishing is that less than three weeks later, despite the weight difference Robinson came back and avenged that loss to Lamotta and did so again as well, beating him 4 of 5 times before dethroning Lamotta for the middleweight title. In 200 fights which continued into his mid 40’s Robinson was stopped just once – due to heat exhaustion against the much bigger Light Heavyweight Champion Joey Maxim. Robinson won the middleweight title 5 times despite mostly being over 35 and past his best, defeating a number of great younger champions. Also add in when Robinson started out he was really a lightweight/light welterweight and quickly defeated the lightweight champion Sammy Angott in a non-title bout which means had Sugar been around today in an era of multiple belts in more weight classes as there weren’t junior weight classes then, Robinson could quite easily have been a champion from lightweight all the way through to super middleweight. A simply outstanding fighter, Robinson has a claim to being the best ever in two separate weight classes, welterweight and middleweight.
2. Henry Armstrong
Hurricane Henry was one of the fighters featured in my book Forgotten Legends of the Ring. It is simply astounding how more fans do not know of Armstrong. The greatest pressure fighter of all time, Armstrong achieved a feat that will never again be repeated. In a time there were only eight weight classes in boxing and one champion per division, Armstrong was a champion in three divisions all at the same time! Featherweight, Lightweight and Welterweight. In fact I believe Armstrong still holds the record for the most number of title defences at welterweight. Had it not been for dodgy scoring, Armstrong would have added the middleweight title to his name as well when he fought Ceferina Garcia but the bout was controversially called a draw by the sole scorer of the fight – the referee. Armstrong also had one of the greatest peaks in boxing history, from 1937 up until his draw at middleweight with Garcia in 1940, Armstrong went 53-1-1, which of course included winning the three titles. By the time Armstrong had ended his career, he was the boxing influence to Sugar Ray Robinson and had 151 victories to his name.
3. Muhammad Ali
The man who called himself the greatest certainly ended his career as the face of boxing and as it’s most recognisable name. Ali was heavily influenced in his style by Sugar Ray Robinson and would change the game of heavyweight boxing forever. 6’3 and around 210lbs, heavyweights were not supposed to be able to move as quick around the ring as Ali did, dancing for 15 rounds, they were not supposed to punch as fast as Ali could, peppering you all night with his lightning like jabs. Ali would quickly become the heavyweight champion as a young man, defeating one of the scariest fighters in history, Sonny Liston. What makes Ali so great is that he was the best heavyweight in the 1960’s – a time he was at his best and then again in the1970’s at a time he was past his best. The 1970’s can be termed as the golden age of heavyweight boxing, besides Ali there was Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, Ron Lyle, Jerry Quarry, Earnie Shavers and Ali beat them all. Had Ali not been banned from boxing at the tender age of 25 who knows just how much better he could have become – he might have ended up as being the universally no.1 boxer of all time. Not only that few had a better chin than Ali, when his reflexes slowed and the legs weren’t quite what they were in the 60’s, Ali discovered he could take a punch! Some of the hardest punchers in history such as Foreman and Shavers weren’t able to put Ali down and maybe even more impressive was Ali’s heart. No one had more will than Ali, you literally had to try and kill him to stop him as witnessed in the thrilla in manila against Joe Frazier, no one could dig deeper than Muhammad Ali.
Hands of Stone was one of the best ever. Duran made his name at lightweight, generally considered as the greatest lightweight of all time, he left the division for further glory and captured the welterweight title against another all time great, Sugar Ray Leonard. Duran is the greatest inside fighter of all time in my opinion and he doesn’t get enough credit for how smart a fighter he was. Because of his ruthless attitude and manos de piedra moniker, people think that Duran was a brutal brawler, which he could do as he was a vicious fighter but Duran also had a very high ring iq and was one of the best ever when it came to using feints too, he could out box you if he wanted to which we saw in his later career as he gradually moved up in divisions. Despite his greatness as a lightweight, it was his later work which cemented his position as a top five boxer of all time in my opinion, Duran who was at one point I believe a super featherweight, would win a world title at 160lbs against a big middleweight in Iran Barkley. Barkley had twice beaten Thomas Hearns(who would end up at Cruiserweight). Can you imagine any super featherweight or lightweight of today going up in weight to middleweight and capturing the world title against a natural middleweight? It just does not happen, to beat someone like that you have got to be a master boxer and that’s exactly what Duran was.
Pep was a featherweight boxer regarded by most as the best that division has ever seen(the other name most often mentioned was his nemesis Sandy Saddler). Pep is cited as having not only the best footwork we have seen in the ring, but also perhaps the greatest defence ever too. One of the sports finest out boxers, Pep at one point boasted a staggering record of 134-1-1. Just as amazing is that Pep survived serious injuries in a plane crash and yet was back to boxing the very same year! Slick, smart, poetry in motion Pep won 229 bouts in all, Will’o the Wisp was arguably the greatest ‘little’ man in boxing history, just like he said ‘if Sugar Ray Robinson is the greatest fighter pound for pound, then I’m the greatest ounce for ounce!’
The Cincinnati Cobra is another fighter who doesn’t get credit for how good a boxer he was. Just like other greats, Charles could claim to have one of the best peaks ever and what’s more is that Charles has one of the strongest resumes in history too. During a period between 1944-1951 Charles lost just once – to a heavyweight named Elmer Ray who was known being a huge puncher but still Ezzard came back to avenge that loss. In this period Charles beat plenty of greats – Archie Moore, Lloyd Marshall, Jimmy Bivins, Joey Maxim, Jersey Joe Walcott, Joe Louis and some of them multiple times. Charles was so good he had to skip winning the title at light heavyweight because the champion wouldn’t fight him(he later beat him at heavyweight, Gus Lesnevich) and compete at heavyweight where he duly won the title. Charles beat hall of famers at middleweight, light heavyweight(where he is generally seen as the greatest ever) and heavyweight. Other names amongst his scalps were several black murderers row members, a group of black fighters who were widely avoided because they were so good, including Charley Burley, the best of the group. Ezzard Charles also was the main influence to the fighting style of boxing great James Toney. A slick boxer and smooth operator, Charles possessed a beautiful right hand and left hook.
Some would say Louis was the no.1 heavyweight of all time, the Ring Magazine listed Louis as the no.1 puncher of all time. What we cannot dispute is that Louis was one of the greatest ring technicians of all time – and perhaps it’s greatest ever finisher too. Joe Louis, nicknamed the Brown Bomber was a cool, calm, calculated and efficient fighter in the ring who could take you out at any moment. Louis was an accurate puncher who never wasted any energy, no one could punch better with such little wind up and back lift, Louis was compact in his punching and movements and was maybe the greatest fundamentally sound boxer of them all. As a champion it is hard to argue against Louis being the greatest heavyweight champion ever, reigning from 1937 to 1949 he was victorious in 25 consecutive title defences and he knocked most of those opponents out – Joe Louis won 66 fights in total and together with his coach Jack Blackburn, formed one of the best fighter trainer duos ever.
The Old Mongoose as he was affectionately known towards the end of his career holds the record with the most number of knockouts in boxing history(132?). Moore has his fair share of fans as the greatest light heavyweight ever and was also an excellent middleweight and heavyweight. Enough credit isn’t given to how good a fighter is towards the end of his career, Archie Moore fought across four decades from 1935 to 1963 and fought everyone there was to fight, Moore did not even get a title shot until he was 36(some believe he was actually 39) when he dethroned Joey Maxim to become the light heavyweight champion. The fact Moore was still defending that title in his mid 40’s speaks volumes of how great a boxer he was, this is in a time where fighters entering their 30’s were considered past it yet here was Archie Moore aged 45 still defending his world title and again this was in an era there weren’t multiple champions in each division. Moore fought 219 times in all and asides for his knockouts and longevity, is also known for his cross arm guard and wily defence. Moore would also later go onto become a boxing trainer including to one of the heavyweight greats, George Foreman. Archie Moore earns his place on my top ten greatest boxers of all time list for being so great for so long.
Sugar Ray Leonard
So a bit of an anomaly here, Leonard had just 40 fights(and was a five weight world champion) yet I am including him in the list of top ten greatest boxers of all time having just mentioned Archie Moore earns his place for being so good in his later years on top of fighting 219 times. So how does Leonard, with just 40 fights to his name deserve his place amongst the very best boxing has ever seen? The answer for me is quite simple – I cannot think of anyone who beat a better quartet of prime fighters than Sugar Ray Leonard did. Let’s look at who these four opponents are, firstly Leonard beat Duran in the rematch, not only is Duran already on this list as one of the top five fighters of all time, he was also the best boxer in the world at the time Leonard beat him to regain the welterweight title. Now take it back to when Leonard won the title against El Radar, Wilfred Benitez. Leonard inflicted a first career loss on the champion who at the time was also considered one of the best boxers on the planet. Then let’s look at Thomas Hearns, the Hitman is another all time great and was an undefeated champion when they fought as well as being one of the best in the world, Leonard stopped him….that’s three wins against the best in the world at a time they were all in their PRIMES. The fourth win was against a middleweight who could be viewed as the greatest middleweight ever, Marvin Hagler who also considered by many as the no.1 pound for pound fighter at the time. Leonard came out of retirement, jumped up in weight to fight a man who hadn’t lost in years and beat him! Sure I can say how fast Leonard was, how gutsy he was, what a great finisher he was but the fact Leonard beat 4 champions in their prime when all four were considered as amongst the top fighters in the world – not their weight class but the best in the WORLD.
Earlier I mentioned the resume of Ezzard Charles, which was one of the best maybe the best ever, a man who could claim to have had a better resume is the Pittsburgh Windmill Harry Greb. For all intents and purposes Greb could be top five or even top three but there is no fight footage of Greb which makes it difficult to place him so high but his resume and fight career warrants his place amongst the greats. Greb was just 32 when he passed away yet already he had amassed a staggering 298 fights, winning 261 of those and just 17 losses. Greb began his career at 140lbs yet would go onto win the middleweight title and the light heavyweight title – he even beat up heavyweights! By all accounts he was a great pressure fighter just like Henry Armstrong and was a non stop punching machine. Greb was the only man to defeat the great Gene Tunney and in 1917 fought an amazing 37 times yet in 1919 he bettered that and fought 45 times in the year! What is more astounding is that Harry Greb fought blind in one eye for some of his career and virtually blind by the end of it. Greb’s resume is extremely impressive, he fought anyone and everyone in any weight class, some of the greats he battled against include Tiger Flowers, Mickey Walker, Gene Tunney, Tommy Loughran, Tommy Gibbons, Battling Levinsky, Kid Norfolk, Jack Dillon and Jack Blackburn – you may not recognise these names but many of them are champions or hall of fame fighters.
Another old timer from around the period of Harry Greb is an equally great fighter by the name of Sam Langford. The Boston Tar Baby is referred to as the greatest boxer nobody knows and as the greatest fighter never to have won a world title – that’s not without trying though, Langford was too good for his own good and was heavily avoided by the champions resulting in Langford going up and down the weight classes to get fights. Despite being a little under 5’7 Langford competed everywhere between lightweight and heavyweight and reputedly had over 300 fights. Langford was often ranked the best in his weight class and would also be ranked by the Ring Magazine as the no.2 greatest puncher of all time. Langford defeated champions such as lightweight Joe Gans and was avoided by heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. He should have won the welterweight title from Barbados Joe Walcott but alas was awarded a controversial draw, he would also defeat middleweight great Stanley Ketchel. Langford was a coloured world champion, fighting in a time where there was a racial barrier but we can see from his resume that he defeated numerous world champions in different weights so doubt he deserved to be a world champion and deserves to be amongst the greatest fighters of all time.
I’m sure you noticed this ended up not being a list of top ten greatest boxers of all time but a top eleven! I just couldn’t leave out one of the above fighters so there was a tie for one place which was mainly the last two on the list who I haven’t seen enough of but everything about their careers suggest they deserve to be in the top ten of all time.
There were many fighters I considered and who would probably make up my list of the top 20 or 25 greatest fighters of all time such as
Pernell Whitaker, Benny Leonard, Joe Gans, Roy Jones Jr, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Manny Pacquiao,(who is still fighting and can break the top ten or even top five depending on any future opponents and wins over them) Marvin Hagler, Carlos Monzon, Thomas Hearns, Tony Canzoneri, Julio Cesar Chavez Sr etc just so many great fighters – hope you enjoyed the list!
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 for educational purposes and 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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