Manny Pacquiao and the 25 Greatest Southpaws in Boxing History
In the first Rocky film, there is a scene where Apollo Creed and his promoter are scrambling to find a replacement opponent for their big event in Philadelphia. Finally, Apollo finds what he thinks is the perfect choice: Rocky Balboa, "the Italian Stallion," native son of the City of Brotherly Love.
Only Duke Evers, the champ's trainer, registers concern: "He's a southpaw. I don't want to mess with no southpaw."
It's one of the oldest truisms in the fight game: a left-handed opponent, because he does everything backwards, inserts an additional element of unpredictability. Even a heavily-favored orthodox fighter runs the risk of bumping into an unintentional head butt.
The Latin word for left was "sinistra," which also meant "unlucky." It's the root word for the modern English word "sinister."
25. Zab Judah
Zab Judah is one of those fighters fans love to hate. Early in his career, he was overbearingly cocky and boastful, which has ensured that every time he has stumbled in his career, a large number of boxing fans have been standing by, waiting to jeer.
His temper tantrum after being knocked out by Kostya Tszyu is one of the most embarrassing things I have ever seen happen in the ring.
The fact that he didn't realize he has been knocked out is not the surprising thing. I can say from my own experience, sometimes when you get knocked out cold in a fight, you are the very last person in the entire room to know about it. But the fact that Judah couldn't accept the information from his own trainer and team indicated a level of extreme immaturity.
But it is unfair to deny that he has grown up a lot since those days and presents an entirely different face to the world now. His fifth-round TKO loss against Amir Khan in July of 2011 had a lot of fans saying he was done, but his own TKO victory over previously unbeaten Vernon Paris last March demonstrated that the 34-year-old is still a factor in the junior welterweight division.
Judah is among the most talented boxers of his generation. He was probably never quite as good as he thought he was, but any top fighter has to believe in himself a little beyond what is realistic.
24. Ayub Kalule
Ayub Kalule was a slick counter-puncher from Uganda. In October of 1979, he captured the WBA light middleweight title from Masashi Kudo and held it for five defenses before losing it to Sugar Ray Leonard via TKO in June of 1981.
Kalule was a top fighter of his era with wins over Sugar Ray Seales and Sumbu Kalambay. But against elite competition like Leonard or Mike McCallum, he came up short. All four of his losses came by stoppage.
23. Chad Dawson
Earlier this month, light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson dropped down to the 168-pound limit to challenge super middleweight champion and pound-for-pound entrant Andre Ward in one of the most anticipated fights of recent years.
The results were disappointing for Dawson, a TKO loss in 10. Yet ultimately, the fight may have helped his legacy, and it did nothing to diminish the respect he has from serious boxing fans and writers. In dropping down to challenge Ward, Dawson showed an old-school willingness to fight the best available opponents.
"What other fight makes sense?" Dawson asked rhetorically when I interviewed him by phone shortly before the matchup. "To my mind, we're the same weight class. Anything over 160, that's the old light heavyweight division. We're obviously the two top guys there, so we should fight each other."
Dawson will return to 175 still the top-ranked fighter in the world there. At just 30, he should have at least a few more years to add to his legacy. Expect to see a rematch with Ward at 175 sometime in the future.
22. Horacio Accavallo
Horacio Accavallo of Argentina was one of the premiere little men in the world in the 1960's, compiling a 75(34)-2-6 record and retiring as the WBA flyweight champion in 1968.
I'll admit that I have some difficulty determining a good ranking for a small fighter like Accavallo, especially when he fought two generations ago. His resume is filled with unfamiliar names that make a good assessment of his legacy hard to establish.
But there can be no question that he belongs somewhere on this list.
21. Paul Williams
Paul Williams' career was cut tragically short last May 27 when he was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident from the waist down. Only one week prior, he had signed to fight rising star Saul Alvarez in a fight that promised to help further define his legacy.
Even with a premature ending to his career, Williams put together a very impressive resume. Over the first decade of the century, he was among the top fighters in the world from 147 to 160.
The only two losses of his career were to tricky fellow southpaw Carlos Quintana, which he avenged in a rematch via a first-round TKO and to pound-for-pound star Sergio Martinez, when he got caught by one of the best left hand bombs ever thrown.
He had previously beaten Martinez by majority decision.
In July of 2011, Williams won a majority decision over Erislandry Lara in what many boxing writers considered to be the robbery of the year. I agree he should have lost that fight.
But a third loss to a fighter of Landry's caliber should not diminish Williams' overall standing.
20. Pongsaklek Wonjongkam
Depending upon who you talk to, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam is either an unappreciated legend or a pretender who stayed protected in his native Thailand. His sixth-round TKO loss to unheralded journeyman Sonny Boy Jaro last March has more people inclined towards the later these days.
But I'll split the middle and push it back towards the former opinion. Wonjongkam held the WBC flyweight title for most of the first decade of the century, and his four-fight series with Daisuke Naito was classic.
Against Jaro, he was nearly 35 years old with 90 professional bouts. I'm inclined to say time just caught up to him.
The former champion has fought and won three times since losing to Jaro. But they were two stoppages against fighters making their pro debuts and a unanimous decision over a guy with a 15-9-3 record.
19. Antonio Tarver
Antonio Tarver had an extensive amateur career and did not start in the pro game until relatively late in life, when he was pushing 30.
But in the first part of the last decade, he established himself as among the top light heavyweights in the division's history. After losing a majority decision to all-time great Roy Jones, Jr. in November of 2003, he beat him with a second-round TKO in the rematch six months later. He won the rubber match by unanimous decision.
In December of 2004, he lost a split decision to Glen Johnson, at the end of a year in which Johnson had earned Ring Fighter-of-the-Year honors. He won the rematch by unanimous decision six months later.
Even north of 40, "The Magic Man" was still able to take a prime Chad Dawson the distance twice.
18. Ronald 'Winky' Wright
In June Winky Wright lost a unanimous decision to middleweight prospect Peter Quillin. It was his first fight in nearly three years since losing to Paul Williams by near shutout in April of 2009.
Prior to that, his last fight had been another unanimous decision loss to Bernard Hopkins in July of 2007. That makes him 0-3 over the past five years.
But from the late 1990's through 2006, he was among the elite at 154 and 160. He drew with Jermaine Taylor when Taylor was undefeated and fresh off from ending Bernard Hopkins long reign of dominance at middleweight. He beat Felix Trinidad and Shane Mosley twice.
Wright was a four-time world champion at 154 pounds and will eventually be enshrined in Canastota.
17. Paulie Ayala
In the late 1990's, Paulie Ayala was a dominant force in the bantamweight division. In 1999, he captured the WBA 118 pound title by handing Johnny Tapia the first loss of his career. He was The Ring Fighter-of-the-Year for 1999.
Ayala beat Tapia again in a rematch in 2000. Aside from a technical decision to Joichiro Tatsuyoshi in 1998, his only losses came at the end of his career, when he moved up to featherweight to challenge Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera, two of the most elite fighters of the past generation.
16. Marc Johnson
Marc "Too Sharp" Johnson was probably the greatest fighter ever to come out of Washington D.C. Fighting in the sport's lower weight classes, he established himself as a legitimate attraction. Last June, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY.
Aside from dropping a four-rounder in his second professional fight, Johnson was untouchable at 112 and 115 pounds.
When he moved up to bantamweight to challenge the great Rafael Marquez, he lost by split decision in a fight where he was docked two points for holding. Marquez won the rematch by TKO in eight.
Johnson then dropped back down to 115 and won the WBO title by edging the highly-rated and then-undefeated Fernando Montiel.
15. Daniel Zaragoza
Daniel Zaragoza was an exciting champion of the classic Mexican style, a warrior who left everything in the ring. A multiple-time WBC champion in the bantam and super bantamweight divisions, he was involved in some of the most exciting fights of the late 1980's and early 90's.
Trained by the legendary Nacho Beristain, Zaragoza's career was steeped in Mexican boxing history. In February of 1988, he stopped the great Carlos Zarate by round 10 TKO in the Zarate's final fight.
In Zaragoza's own last fight, he dropped the WBC 122-pound belt to another Mexican legend, Erik Morales, succumbing to an 11th-round knockout in September of 1997. Since 2010, the Mouse has trained another Mexican great, Rafael Marquez, the younger brother of Juan Manuel.
14. George 'KO' Chaney
George Chaney was a hard-hitting featherweight who logged close to 200 professional fights between 1910 and 1926. He had a terrific KO percentage but was knocked out himself in his only championship bids. He was one of The Ring's top 100 punchers of all-time.
Chaney was born in Baltimore in 1893 into the same rough-and-tumble environment as Babe Ruth. This is a fighter I am desperate to get more research on. In the past five years of his career alone, he lost six fights by DQ.
13. Lew Tendler
Between 1913-1928, Lew Tendler compiled a record of 145-17-8. He ranks among the greatest fighters to never win a world championship.
A native of Philadelphia, Tendler ranks as among the best fighters ever produced by the City of Brotherly Love, which is itself among the elite fighting cities on the planet. He is a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and the Pro Boxing Hall of Fame.
Tendler was one of the toughest rivals for Benny Leonard, arguably the greatest lightweight of all time and among the top pound-for-pound fighters of all-time.
12. Freddie Miller
Fighting throughout the Great Depression, Freddie MIller compiled a professional record of 210-32-8. He ranks among the top featherweights of all time.
Miller stopped just 45 of his opponents, giving him a KO percentage just under 18. He was a tricky technician who relied on guile.
Miller's January 1932 world featherweight championship bout against Battling Battalino was among the most controversial fiascoes of the era, ending in a no contest. From the Boxrec.com records:
The crowd of 2,000 booed the fighters throughout when there was little action during the first two rounds. Miller came out of his corner in the third and sent Battalino down with what Referee Lou Bauman termed a "light" blow to the chin. When the champion got to his feet, Miller sent him down again for about fifteen seconds but Bauman saw no reason to count, lifted Bat to his feet, and ordered him to fight. When Bat offered no defense, Bauman stopped the fight at the direction of the Cincinnati Boxing Commission, turned his back on the fighters and left the ring. (The Commission announced that all ticket-holders would get their money back.) Battalino was shorn of recognition by the NBA as champion when he weighed in over the 126-pound limit. Since he weighed 129¾, however, it ruled the fight could be held and Miller declared champion if he won. But the "no contest" ruling left the title vacant (as it would have been if Battalino had won). Battalino vigorously claimed the title and had to be taken from the ring by his seconds. He was indefinitely suspended by the Boxing Commission and fined $5,000 for this "fiasco."
Battalino had been stripped by NYSAC on Jan 8 and Battalino officially renounced his claim on March 1, 1932
11. Joe Calzaghe
Joe Calzaghe is among the handful of fighters to retire as an undefeated world champion, walking away from the game in November of 2008 with a glittering 46-0 record with 32 KOs.
I can imagine readers criticizing his spot on this list as both too high and way too low. On the one hand, his resume is not exactly loaded with elite quality opposition. His two best wins would have to be a unanimous decision over the previously unbeaten Mikkel Kessler in November of 2007 and a split decision victory over a 43-year-old Bernard Hopkins in April of 2008.
And a lot of people think he should have lost to Hopkins.
At the same time, it's not like "The Pride of Wales" made a career out of busting open tomato cans. He held various versions of alphabet soup 168 pound titles for a decade, so everybody he fought was a ranked contender.
10. Flash Elorde
There is a strong argument that could be made for Flash Elorde as the greatest Filipino boxer of all-time, even above Manny Pacquiao. His 27 career losses (against 89 wins) stand out as an argument against that idea, but one has to consider the era he came up in.
Elorde began his career in 1951 and fought his way up at a time when six to 10 fights a year was standard for a hungry, lower weight fighter. He emerged from the competitive Asian-Pacific environment and exploded onto the boxing scene in 1955 when he defeated featherweight world champion Sandy Saddler in a non-title bout.
Elorde lost the rematch by third-round TKO due to a cut. But in 1960, he captured the world championship from Harold Gomes and held both the original WBA and WBC versions of the belt, remaining the 126-pound champ until 1967.
During that time, he went up to fight in the lightweight division, as well. In February of 1964, he was TKOd by the great Carlos Ortiz when he challenged for the 135-pound world championship.
9. Young Corbett III
Young Corbett III was a two-division world champion during an era when being a world champion meant that you were legitimately viewed as the to fighter that weight in the world.
In 1933, he beat Jackie Fields for the welterweight belt. In February of 1938, he took the middleweight crown from Fred Apostoli, losing it back to him later in the year.
Corbett's record was 122-12-22. Among the fighters he beat were future middleweight champion Cerefino Garcia and future light heavyweight champion Billie Conn, who would famously come within two rounds of upsetting the immortal Joe Louis.
8. Sergio Martinez
Perhaps the most amazing thing of all about Sergio Martinez's remarkable career is the fact that it started so late. In a sport where most elite competitors hit the gym before they enter puberty, Martinez did not get his start until he was 20.
You would never guess it to look at him today. He has combined explosive power in both fists with perhaps the best footwork in the sport to stake a legitimate claim on top pound-for-pound honors.
Nobody debates that he is the top 160-pound fighter in the world, a claim he solidified earlier this month when he beat Julio Cesar Chavez by unanimous decision.
7. Jose Luis Ramirez
Jose Luis Ramirez fought from 1973 to 1990, compiling a record of 102-9 with 82 stoppages. His thrilling fourth-round TKO of Edwin Rosario in 1984 earned him the WBC lightweight title. It avenged his razor-close unanimous decision loss to Rosario in 1983.
Ramirez was a true ring warrior, though he did more often come up short against the truly elite such as Ruben Olivares, Alexis Arguello, Hector Camacho and Julio Cesar Chavez.
He did record a split decision victory over Pernell Whitaker in March of 1988, but that is regarded as among the worst decisions of all-time. Whitaker won the rematch by a near shutout.
Nevertheless, Ramirez was among the best of his era and clearly one of the top southpaws of all-time.
6. Hector Camacho
Hector "Macho" Camacho was a flashy, exciting fighter who held world titles in three different divisions. After winning the vacant WBC super featherweight title in 1983, he moved up in class two years later and captured the lightweight crown from Jose Luis Ramirez.
In 1989, he won the inaugural WBO 140-pound belt by defeating Ray Mancini via split decision.
In 1992, Camacho lost a high-profile showdown to the juggernaut known as Julio Cesar Chavez by wide scores on all three cards. Two years later, he lost a bid for the IBF welterweight crown to Felix Trinidad.
In 1997, Camacho TKOd the immortal Sugar Ray Leonard, who was making an ill-advised comeback attempt after six years away from the ring. The next year, Camacho, himself now 35, lost a second attempt for the welterweight title against Oscar De La Hoya.
In the end, Macho would keep going until he was nearly 50. His last fight was by unanimous decision to journeyman Saul Duran in 2010.
5. Vicente Saldivar
A member of the 1960 Mexican Olympic team, Vicente Saldivar has a short career by the standards of his era and nationality, compiling a record of 37-3 with 26 stoppages.
But during the heart of his career, he was essentially untouchable. He captured the undisputed world championship in 1964 by defeating the great Sugar Ramos. He defended it seven times before retiring in 1967, the only loss on his record a disqualification.
He came back two years later, and in 1970, reclaimed the WBC version of his crown by besting Johnny Famechon, though he lost it in his first defense to Kuniaki Shibata. A last attempt to reclaim the title against Eder Jofre in 1973 ended in a fourth-round KO.
4. Manny Pacquiao
This is another ranking I can envision being criticized from both angles. I've read people trying to prop up Pacquiao as the pound-for-pound greatest of all-time and I've seen them try to dismiss him as wildly overrated.
I'm comfortable listing him behind the three lefties that will follow him. At the same time, I think his resume speaks for itself.
Being called a world champion in today's game means a lot less than it did back in the day. But there's no way an unbiased fan or writer can fail to be impressed by winning straps from 112 all the way up to 150.
Along the way, Pacman has recorded victories over more than a half-dozen fellow future Hall of Famers.
3. Tiger Flowers
Tiger Flowers compiled a record of 119-15-7, fighting in an era when racism routinely prevented black fighters from getting a fair shake in the judging. Boxrec.com provides this detail regarding his world title loss to fellow immortal Micky Walker:
World Middleweight TitleThe Chicago Tribune had three reporters at ringside and all scored Flowers as a decisive winner. "The referee was the sole arbiter in Illinois rule (at this time). "Referee Benny Yanger said he based his decision on Walker landing the cleaner punches, and that Flowers only slapped with an open glove. Tiger also was guilty of sticking a thumb in Mickey's eyes on occasion, and also of heeling..Spectators at ringside couldn't believe it when the saw Referee Yanger hold up Walker's hand as the winner." Flowers was down in round nine. The gate was $77,137." From the Chicago Tribune,
The Georgia Decon captured the world middleweight title by defeating the near mythical Harry Greb, regarded by many boxing historians as the best middleweight of all time and one of the very top pound-for-pound fighters of all time.
The one knock against Flowers would have to be fragile whiskers. Of his 15 losses, 10 came by way of stoppage.
2. Pernell Whitaker
It took a lot of research to compile this list, but Pernell Whitaker was one of the very first names I jotted down in my preliminary notes. Deciding whether or not he should be one or two was among my toughest decisions.
"Sweat Pea" was a member of the legendary 1984 Olympic Boxing team, where he won a gold medal. He turned professional in November of that year and won 15 straight before challenging Jose Luis Ramirez for the WBC lightweight crown in 1988.
Whitaker lost a split decision, one of the worst judges' rulings of all-time. Whitaker had some of the worst luck with decisions of any elite fighter ever. His draw against Julio Cesar Chavez in 1993 was even more infamous and nearly as bad.
I even think Whitaker should have won over Oscar De La Hoya in 1997, though that fight was certainly close enough to go either way.
But the loss to Ramirez was merely a speed bump. Within a year, he had captured the IBF lightweight belt and had unified all three belts a year-and-a-half after that.
A strong argument can be made for Whitaker as the greatest lightweight in history. He went on to win titles at 140 and 147 as well.
1. Marvin Hagler
With a record of 62(52)-3-2 and a then-unprecedented 13 successful defenses of the middleweight championship of the world, Marvin Hagler is ultimately my clear-cut choice for the greatest southpaw of all-time.
Hagler was an old-school warrior who came up the hard way. Nothing was handed to him.
During the third year of his career, he lost decisions to tough veterans Bobby Watts and Willie Munroe. He learned from the experiences and moved forward.
In 1979, six years into his career, Hagler finally got his first title shot against Vito Antuofermo. In a head-scratcher of a decision, Antuofermo retained the belt with a draw.
Less than a year later, Hagler got opportunity number two, this time against Alan Minter. He took no chances, TKOing the Brit in three.
From there, Hagler became the one of the most dominant fighters of the 1980s. In 1987, he dropped his belt via split decision to Sugar Ray Leonard. While I feel Leonard legitimately won, it has been viewed as a questionable decision by many.
Either way, Hagler's record puts him on the short list with the all time, pound-for-pound best. As a southpaw, he is clearly the best of all-time.