“If you screw things up in tennis, it’s 15-love. If you screw up in boxing, it’s your ass.”
Although as a boxer Randall “Tex” Cobb was a great actor, with the above analogy he brought clarity to the severity of the sport, more specifically to the “being-on-your-ass” part.
A knockout in boxing is what both fighters enter the ring hoping to achieve and the moment thousands of spectators anticipate witnessing. A knockout can have a momentous redemptive quality (see Juan Manuel Marquez) and a visual resonance (see the iconic photo of Muhammad Ali hovering above Sonny Liston).
The fact that a man’s fight and night can end so instantaneously makes it that much more impressive that certain fighters never leave the ring, throughout an entire career, as a result of being knocked out.
The men on this list fought in over 1800 combined fights, including, in some cases, those that ended in a “newspaper decision,” that is, a fight which ended with no official decision, no knockout and both fighters still standing, prompting a decision rendered by the newspaper for the purpose of closure.
For the purposes of clarity, this list is comprised of the fighters from ten to one who fought the entirety of their career without being defeated via knockout—it does not mean they were not knocked down. The fighters in this top ten fought in an era in which a calendar year with only ten fights would be considered a light load, making the list that much more impressive when given the number of fights per fighter.
As such, here are the fighters who were toughest to KO in the history of the sport.
Gavilan, a Cuban-born fighter whose given name was Gerardo Gonzalez, was a welterweight known for the "bolo” punch, a combined hook and uppercut. In a career that spanned 15 years from 1943-1958, he fought a total of 143 fights, winning 107, including 28 by knockout. Yet during his career he was not knocked out once.
In 1948 and 1949, Gavilan fought the great Sugar Ray Robinson, losing both fights, in a ten-round and fifteen-round decision respectively.
In 1951, he won the welterweight title, which had been vacated by Sugar Ray Robinson, after Robinson defeated Jake LaMotta for the middleweight title in that same year.
He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY in 1990, which was the Hall of Fame's first year in that location after being located at Madison Square Garden in New York City for decades.
Gavilan died in 2003 of a heart attack and due to financial hardship as well as estrangement from his family, he was buried in what was referred to as a “pauper’s grave” in Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery in Miami, Florida.
However, in 2005, a group that included boxers Ray Mancini, Mike Tyson, Roberto Duran, Leon Spinks, Buddy McGirt and Emile Griffith, as well as trainer Angelo Dundee, contributed a combined total of $15,000 to give Gavilan a proper headstone and burial. Ironically, Tyson who had declared bankruptcy around the same time, contributed the most to the gesture, giving $5,000.
Nel Tarleton, a British fighter from Liverpool, was the holder of the English featherweight championship belt on three separate occasions, in a career that spanned twenty years from 1925-1945, when he left boxing at the age of 42.
Tarleton fought in a combined 148 contests, winning 119, drawing in eight, and losing 21 fights. During his career he boxed a total of 1618 rounds, according to Boxingrec.com, without once losing by knockout.
In an article he wrote in 1936, in the thick of his career, Tarleton opened the piece by asserting, “I have never been knocked out in my life. Luckily, I have not had my 'beauty' spoilt either. But it's not for want of the other fellows trying!”
He goes on to say, the closest he came to being knocked out in a bout was in a title fight against Johnny McGrory, in which he lost his title on points.
“It was about half-way through the contest. There was some in-fighting, and both Johnny and myself were squaring up to put across a telling blow. He got there first. A left hook followed by a right cross had me on the verge of slumberland.”
Tarleton achieved all of his in-the-ring success despite having only one lung. A man impervious to misfortune, he was involved in a serious car crash and contracted pneumonia a year prior to retaining the title that he had lost in 1936, in a points win over then-champion Johnny Cusick in 1940.
He passed away at the age of 49 in 1956.
Joe Lynch was a bantamweight, born in the boxer-rich borough of Brooklyn in 1898. He fought in a total of 157 bouts, which included 83 newspaper decisions, yet none of his combined 37 losses were by knockout.
In 1920, Lynch defeated Peter Herman at Madison Square Garden to win the world bantamweight belt, eventually losing the title to Herman when they fought again in July 1921 at Ebbets Field in his native Brooklyn.
In July 1922, Lynch regained the bantamweight title by defeating Johnny Buff via TKO in the 14th round at the New York Velodrome. He lost the title for the last time against Abe Goldstein in March 1924 at Madison Square Garden.
Upon retiring in 1926, Lynch became a postmaster in New City, NY. He died in 1965 at the age of 66, when his body was found floating in a bay in New York City. He was unable to be resuscitated while in an ambulance to the hospital.
Alfonso Teofilo Brown was born in Panama, thus the nickname, among his other aliases, such as the “Elongated Panamanian,” due to a 76-inch reach, and “Kid Theophilo.”
In 1922, at the age of 20, Brown turned professional, and in December of that year defeated Sailor Patchett to win the vacant Panamanian Isthmus flyweight title. Upon arriving in New York in 1924, Brown won his first 17 fights and was ranked by The Ring magazine as the “third best flyweight.” In 1926 he made the divisional move upward to bantamweight.
In June of 1929, Brown defeated Vidal Gregorio in a decision win that made him the New York State Athletic Commission’s bantamweight champion, also making him the first Panamanian and Latin American world champion in boxing history. The fight took place in Queensboro Stadium in Long Island City, NY.
After a string of six years in which he defended his title a total of ten times, Brown eventually relinquished the belt, losing in a fifteen-round decision to Baltazar Sanchilli in Valencia, Spain in 1935.
He retired and then came out of retirement between 1935 and 1942, at which time he retired for good, compiling a career record of 133 wins, 13 draws, and 20 losses, and a total of 167 bouts, none of which involved him being knocked out.
His life following retirement from the ring included a stint leading an orchestra on the French Riviera as well as being deported from the United States to Panama on charges of cocaine possession.
As many a boxer’s plight seems to be to pass from this sphere penniless, Brown too was in such a state upon his death in 1951, at the age of 48 from tuberculosis.
Wimler was born in Sachsen, Germany but immigrated to the United States as a child, eventually residing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The featherweight stood 4’11’’, and during his career, which lasted from 1910-1924, fought in a total of 171 bouts, including newspaper decisions. In fact, of the 171 total fights, the majority were newspaper decisions. He lost 72 fights but of those losses, none were as a result of a knockout.
Wimler died in 1960 at the age of 68.
“Irish” Paddy Callahan earned his nickname the old-fashioned way, being named Patrick and born in Ireland, specifically County Tipperary. He eventually immigrated to Brooklyn, NY, where he fought the majority of his fights as a rangy lightweight.
Callahan exemplified the Irish fighting spirit, specifically in the squared circle, where he fought in 182 fights as a lightweight, which included 132 newspaper-decided matches. All total, according to Boxingrec.com, Paddy boxed a combined 1122 rounds, and among his 44 career defeats was never unable to transition from horizontal to vertical during a referee's 10 count.
His career lasted 10 years from 1905-1915, when he last fought Eddie Cook to a draw in May, 1915, at the Military A.C., Brooklyn, New York.
Ara was born in Spain in 1909 and fought most of his career at middleweight, with several bouts at light heavyweight. His boxing career spanned over two decades, from his first fight in December 1926, a TKO against Hector Ambrossini, to his last fight in August 1947, a loss on points to Boy Brooks.
Ara fought in a total of 186 fights, with 63 of his wins coming via KO, giving him the second-highest KO percentage on the list at 34 percent. Panama Al Brown’s KO percentage was slightly higher, winning 61 of his 131 victories via knockout, for a 36 percent KO rate. Ara lost 24 times but never as a result of KO.
The Spaniard fought mostly in Europe, the US and South America, and many of his fights were against champions and top contenders of that era, including Joe Dundee, Marcel Thil, Kid Tunero, Izzy Grove, Ben Jeby and Relampago Saguero.
In 1925, then lightweight champion Benny “Ghetto Wizard” Leonard retired from boxing, vacating the title, which resulted in the New York State Athletic Commission arranging a tournament to allow for a new champion to be crowned. The winner of that tournament was Jimmy Goodrich, whose birth name was James E. Moran.
Goodrich defeated Stanislaus Loayza via a second-round knockout at Queensboro Stadium in Long Island City, NY. During the course of the tournament, Goodrich actually defeated the man who sits at No. 2 on this list, Benny Valger, on points in 12 rounds, during their semifinal match.
The Buffalo native held onto the title for less than six months, losing a tightly contested 15-round decision to Rock Kansas, himself a native of Buffalo. Despite fighting for an additional five years after the title loss, Goodrich was never allotted another shot to fight for the lightweight belt and retired in 1930.
The formerly named Moran fought in a total of 196 fights, 54 of which were newspaper decisions, and in his combined 51 losses was never on the receiving end of a knockout blow.
Benny Valger was another lightweight, nicknamed the “French Flash,” as he was born in Paris. As a child, he moved to New York City with his parents, who were Russian Jews.
Valger was considered to be one of the more dominant lightweights of the era despite possessing less power in the ring than a fighter like Benny Leonard.
To that end, in a 1935 interview in the New York Enquirer, Valger’s trainer Ray Alcer, stated, “When it came to all-around ring generalship, Benny Valger was on a par with Benny Leonard, though Leonard packed the better punch.”
He fought in over 200 bouts, including newspaper decisions, without being on the receiving end of a night-ending 10-second count.
The “French Flash” is one of only two men in the history of the sport to fight in 200 bouts, 215 to be exact, without being knocked out. The other man tops this list a keyboard click away.
Despite his impressive record and number of fights, Valger was never able to win a title, as he outpointed featherweight champion Johnny Kilbane in February 1920 in their title fight but did not claim the belt as he did not knock Kilbane out. He also lost to Jimmy Goodrich in the 1925 tournament to decide who would claim Benny Leonard’s vacated lightweight title.
Valger retired in 1932 at the age of 34.
Harry "Hop" Stone, born Harry Siegstein in New York, NY, fought in a combined 219 fights, including 70 newspaper decisions, for a total of 3,022 rounds of boxing in his career from 1906-1929, according to Boxingrec.com. This makes him the only other boxer, along with the aforementioned Valger, to have fought in over 200 matches without succumbing to that bout-ending descent to the canvas.
He fought the majority of his matches in Australia, along with several bouts in New York as well as Great Britain.
Stone retired in 1929 after a career in which some, including Barry Hugman, the man responsible for compiling the History of World Championship Boxing, claimed that Stone had fought in over 500 bouts.
Stone died in Sydney, Australia in 1950, at the age of 57.