Boxing: The Top 10 Greatest Fighters of All Time
When I initially thought about making a top 10 list for the best boxers of all time, I figured it would be a piece of cake. I didn't realize it was devil's cake because narrowing down a list of the top 10, especially in boxing, means that someone is going to be left out.
So before we proceed to the list, I would like everyone to know that each fighter on this list is there for a reason. It’s almost impossible to pick through the hundreds of amazing fighters throughout history and come to some sort of general consensus as to who really is the best.
10) Prince Naseem Hamed
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He was quite possibly the most entertaining fighter in the history of the sport. Prince Naseem Hamed began learning how to box at the age of seven at Brendan Ingle's gym.
He fought his first professional bout at the age of 18 and became the European champion at age 20. Prince was known for his spectacular entrances and his forward flip into the ring.
His unorthodox style was a dangerous game of offense and defense. He’s one of the few fighters I’ve ever seen that could keep his hands down and throw shots from any possible angle resulting in either knockout or technical knockout.
Prince is also a Muslim and one of the few fighters to show pride in his Islamic heritage and upbringing, which in turn made him an idol for young Muslims around the world who felt isolated and unappreciated.
Kevin Kelly, a former world champion who had only been beaten one time in his career, was stopped by Prince in the eighth round by way of knockout. Naseem also beat Tom “Boom Boom” Johnson, who had successfully defended his title 10 times prior to meeting Naseem in the ring. He was also known to have fought in the ring during a bronchial infection.
He’s had several books written about him, video games in his name as well as a gym in England named in his honor including high praise from boxing greats such as George Foreman and Emmanuel Stewart.
Prince Naseem was also responsible for bringing attention back to the lower weight classes for which he can still be thanked today.
9) Larry Holmes
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The Easton Assassin, Larry Holmes gained his alias from his home town in Easton, Pa., where he grew up. Holmes defeated such fighters as Muhammad Ali, Ken Norton, Marvis Frazier and Gerry Cooney. He also knocked out former world champion Leon Spinks in three rounds.
It’s evident that fighters like the Klitschko brothers learned much from Holmes, using the jab to wear down opponents and accumulate damage. Holmes was also a great in fighter and managed to defeat opponents well past his prime, something very few fighters have been able to do.
Unlike most fighters from his era, Larry Holmes secured financial stability. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2008.
8) Julio Cesar Chavez
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Like Manny Pacquiao and Jack Johnson, Julio Cesar Chavez grew up with very little. His father, Rodolfo Chavez, worked for the railroad. Julio grew up with his five brothers and sister in an abandoned railroad car.
Chavez was the poster boy for other great Hispanic fighters who would come after him. A six time world champion in three divisions, Chavez would stalk his opponents, playing with them in order to find that right shot to put his opponent out for the count.
He had an extremely tough chin, a mini Tex Cobb so to speak. Julio also went undefeated for 13 years, winning every one of his fights.
After his retirement in 2005, Chavez has spent most of his time working with his son, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who is in my opinion just as much of a fighter as his father was. He even avenged his father’s loss to Grover Wiley in a third-round knockout in 2007 at Madison Square Garden.
7) Lennox Lewis
Lewis beat some of the best fighters from his era like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Tommy Morrison, Ray Mercer, Hasim Rahman, and Vitali Klitschko. Not only has he beaten the fighters I mentioned above, but he did it convincingly.
He never allowed Tyson to in fight with him, keeping his distance using his jab and longer reach to eventually knock Tyson out in the 8th round.
Lewis’s fight with Vitali Klitschko may have been Vitali’s hardest moment in the ring. Although he had lost to Chris Byrd, suffering a shoulder injury during the fight, his loss to Lewis was the real deal.
Lewis, along with Muhammad Ali and Evander Holyfield, is one of the only fighters to have won the heavyweight championship three times.
6) George Foreman
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Can this guy ever stop winning? Age certainly didn’t stop “Big” George from being a champion. George Foreman until recently was the world’s oldest heavy champion at 45 years old until Bernard Hopkins took that title after defeating Jean Pascal.
Foreman has fought wars in the ring from his first and only knockout during his fight with Muhammad Ali labeled “The Rumble in the Jungle.” And who can forget the sunshine showdown in 1973 with Foreman dominating Frazier winning by TKO in HBO Boxing’s first ever broadcast.
Foreman who admitted to being a troubled youth defeated many top ranked fighters well after his prime. George has continued to be a part of the boxing scene and through his entrepreneurial endeavors, has earned over $100 million in sales of his George Foreman grill.
Remember that number the next time you want to poke jokes at one of the greatest fighters to ever grace the ring.
5) Rocky Marciano
Marciano was the only boxing champion who retired undefeated with 49 wins and zero losses. Of those 49 wins, 43 came by knockout. Marciano was relatively short for boxers of his era, standing roughly 5’10 weighing 185 lbs. with no real reach advantage.
The most important advantage he did have minus his punching power was his heart. His determination in the ring made him a champion and while some say his opponents were not top class, he fought whoever was put in front of him.
In 1969 Marciano participated in a computer simulation that had him fighting Muhammad Ali. When asked if he could beat Ali, he said “I'd be conceited if I said I could, but I'd be lying if I said I couldn't."
It was Marciano’s heart and undefeated record that made him in my eyes one of the greatest fighters of all time. He was also born a whopping 12 pounds, kid was hungry from the get go!
4) Manny Pacquiao
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Manny Pacquiao grew up in the slums of the Philippines, a true underdog story if ever, there was one. One of five other siblings, poverty was the norm for his family. Like Jack Johnson, Manny also moved away from his home at an early age.
He was only 14 when he moved to Manila, for a while living on the streets until he began boxing. Before turning 16, Manny would have an amateur record of 64 wins and 4 losses. By the time he began training for his bout with Antonio Barrera, Freddie Roach was already on the job molding Manny, who would go on to become the pound-for-pound champion of the world.
Manny stunned boxing fans handing Barrera a technical knockout in the 11th round, something no one had ever done. Present day, Manny has accomplished what no other fighter in the history of the sport has, eightbelts in eight separate divisions.
And as of 2010, he’s also a congressman in district of Sarangani, in the Philippines. Apart from these accomplishments, Manny has does things in the ring I’ve never seen anyone else in the sport even attempt much less put into action, circling left or right throwing combinations of up to four even seven punches with one step. Not bad for a kid from the slums, huh?
3) Sugar Ray Robinson
Sport February 1952 Boxing Cover Magazine
The simple fact that this man won 173 out of his 200 fights gives him a definite spot on top ten. Robinson was given his name by his to be manager George Gainford who described Robinson's style as being, “sweet like sugar.”
Like George Foreman, Robinson had a hard time coming of age. His fights with Jake LaMotta including the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1951 were some of the best fights in boxing history with Robinson winning five out of the six bouts.
Robinson was powerful with both arms, movingly swiftly with ease. He has been praised by Ring magazine as the best pound-for-pound fighter of all time and the best boxer in history by ESPN.
Jake LaMotta was quoted as saying, “He was the greatest. Pound for pound, the greatest fighter who ever lived. There's no question about it.”
Muhammad Ali called him, “The king, the master, my idol.” Sugar Ray Leonard stated that the only similarity between the two are their names, that Robinson was the greatest, “there was no comparison.”
2) Muhammad Ali
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“Float like a butterfly sting like a Bee”. Muhammad Ali, previously known as Cassius Clay prior to his conversion to Islam has been praised by many as the greatest.
His talent in the ring is a mystery to no one. Ali had an unorthodox style, fast hands and body movement that was graceful like the sound of opera. Some of these movements would later become boxing lingo used to describe certain actions like the rope a dope and Ali shuffle.
Ali was just as loud with his hands as he was with his mouth. Talking trash to his opponents and sometimes insulting them in rhyme form, though his taunting had no malicious or mean-spirited intent to it.
His personality and character in and out of the ring made him bigger than life to many around the globe. In 1967 as America came close to deploying troops in Vietnam, Ali refused to be drafted saying, “I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong... No Viet Cong ever called me n----r.”
At the time his words of truth and wisdom vilified him instead of making him look like a hero. Although I put Johnson on top of the list, I would still call Muhammad Ali the greatest boxer of all time.
I have similar reasons for calling Bruce Lee the greatest martial artist of all time. Bruce’s Philosophical side, unprecedented workout methods let alone his fight to introduce martial arts to the west changed history. And although Ali may have been bested in battle, it was his life outside of the ring that made him extraordinary.
1) Jack Johnson
In the field of mathematics, Abu Jaffar Muhammad was far ahead of his time creating Al–Jibre, better known today as algebra.
In the world of martial arts, Bruce Lee was also ahead of his time as the forefather of what would become mixed martial arts.
In the world of boxing, no one was tougher than Jack Johnson.
He was only 12 when he decided to venture into the fighting world, and 45 rounds a night was the usual as Johnson fought tactically when others didn’t.
His introduction into the fight game wasn’t defending himself against the school bully; it was a battle royal with 10 other kids.
Winner takes all in front of rich white men and women who viewed the battle for “entertainment” purposes. This kind of absurdity was common place in Johnson’s era.
Johnson’s color made him a public enemy as America looked for a “great white hope” to defeat him. Johnson's win over James Jeffries on July 4, 1910 caused riots and celebrations giving African Americans a feeling of empowerment in an era plagued by violence and bigotry.