The Most Exciting Boxing Champion in the History of Every Division

Kevin McRaeFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2013

The Most Exciting Boxing Champion in the History of Every Division

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    Boxing has many weight divisions. Everyone from the smallest—105 pounds—to the biggest guys on the planet—in unlimited size heavyweights—can compete. 

    And not all divisions are created equally. 

    The traditional glamour divisions have had their share of great and well-known fighters. 

    But so have some of the weights that we don't talk about nearly as much. 

    This list will make the argument for which fighter was the most exciting champion in every one of of boxing's 17 weight classes.

Strawweight/Minimumweight: Ricardo Lopez

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    Ricardo "Finito" Lopez is widely considered not just the best strawweight of all time but one of the best fighters Mexico has ever produced. 

    He was one of the few fighters to compete in the straw/minimumweight division to achieve any sort of mainstream success and appeal due to his surprising knockout power.

    Lopez won the WBC minimumweight title in 1990 by going into hostile territory and knocking out Hideyuki Ohashi in his native Japan.

    Finito would hold onto that title for nearly a decade, adding the WBA version as well, before jumping up to the light flyweight division and capturing a world title there.

    In a professional career that spanned 16 years, Lopez was undefeated at 51-0-1 with 38 knockouts. The only blemish on his record came from a 1998 draw with Rosendo Alvarez, a result he would avenge with a split-decision victory in their second fight.

Light Flyweight: Jung-Koo Chang

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    Jung-Koo Chang, better known as "The Korean Hawk," dominated the light flyweight division between 1983 and 1988 and amassed an impressive 15 straight title defenses in that span.

    In a two-fight series with another man who could make a claim to this spot, the great Hilario Zapata, Chang certainly came out on top.

    Zapata won their first bout by a narrow split decision and then was annihilated in the third round by Chang in the rematch. You could easily make the argument that the Korean fighter deserved both verdicts.

    During his reign, he also defeated tough challengers such as German Torres, three times, Hideyuki Ohashi and Sot Chitalada.

Flyweight: Pascual Perez

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    Remember, this is a list of the most exciting champions and not necessarily the best fighter at each weight. So before all you Jimmy Wilde fans out there go nuts, just keep that in mind. 

    Pascual Perez (84-7-1, 57 KO) was a knockout machine early in his career, turning pro after winning gold at the 1948 Olympics. He won 22 of his first 23 bouts inside the distance.

    Just two years into that career he won the world flyweight title in Japan, which he retained mostly by knockout over a four-year span.

    Perez was known for being a fierce warrior in the ring and never turned in a boring performance. Did he perform in the deepest era for flyweights? Probably not but this again is about excitement.

Junior Bantamweight: Khaosai Galaxy

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    Khaosai Galaxy (49-1, 43 KO) dominated the junior bantamweight division from the late 1980s into the early 1990s. 

    During his career he was affectionately known as the "Thai Tyson," and after losing on points in just his seventh professional bout, he reeled off a string of 43 consecutive victories. 

    His power was devastating, as shown by his 43 knockout wins, and he defended the WBA junior bantamweight championship 19 times, with 16 of those wins coming inside the distance.

    It's unfortunate that Galaxy doesn't get his due credit outside of hardcore boxing circles. This is largely due to competing in a lower weight division and only fighting once outside of Asia. 

    Even so, he was impressive enough to be rated the 19th greatest puncher in the history of the sport by Ring Magazine

Bantamweight: Carlos Zarate

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    The bantamweight division is one of the trickiest to rank given the number of fighters who could reasonably occupy the top spot. 

    But it's important to note again we're talking most exciting, and that's why the nod here goes to Mexican warrior Carlos Zarate.

    Zarate (66-4, 63 KO) was one of the most devastating and feared punchers to ever set foot inside the ring. He is also the only fighter in boxing history to string together two streaks of 20 or more knockouts in a row.

    His war with Puerto Rican legend Wilfredo Gomez is still one of the most brutal bouts in history and featured two fighters with the highest combined knockout percentages in history.

    Zarate is one fighter who can make a case for inclusion in any list of most exciting punchers in any division.

Junior Featherweight: Wilfredo Gomez

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    Wilfredo Gomez (44-3-1, 42 KO) is widely considered not just the greatest junior featherweight of all time but also the greatest fighter to come out of Puerto Rico.

    You can debate which accomplishment is more significant.

    Gomez was a fierce puncher and holds the junior featherweight record for title defenses with 17. All of those came inside the distance.

    He is well known for being the guy who took Mexican warrior Carlos Zarate's zero after knocking him out in the fifth round of their 1978 bout. Entering the bout, Gomez was 22-0-1 with 22 knockouts, and Zarate was 52-0 with 51 knockouts. 

    The fight was rough and brutal as advertised. It was also not the only rough Mexico vs. Puerto Rico rivalry Gomez would participate in, stopping Lupe Pintor in the 14th round and losing to Salvador Sanchez by eighth-round TKO.

Featherweight: Salvador Sanchez

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    Featherweight's most exciting fighter in history depends on how far back in time you wish to go in order to find him.

    Some of the greatest fighters of all time—Willie Pep, Henry Armstrong and Sandy Saddler—fought at this weight and rightfully deserve consideration.

    On a list of the greatest fighter in featherweight history you'd likely give the nod to either Pep or Armstrong, but the most exciting fighter goes to Salvador Sanchez.

    Sanchez (44-1-1, 32 KO) had his career cut tragically short in a car accident that claimed his life during the prime of his career. But before his passing he made a huge impact on the sport and was widely considered one of the best fighters of his generation.

    He held both the WBC and Lineal featherweight championships and made nine defenses. His resume includes wins over Danny Lopez, Juan LaPorte, Wilfredo Gomez and Azumah Nelson.

    There is simply no telling how great he could've been, given how great he was in such a short time.

Junior Lightweight: Alexis Arguello

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    At 130 pounds, Alexis Arguello was like a hurricane and left a path of destruction in his wake. He spent three years as the WBA champion and compiled eight impressive defenses.

    At junior lightweight, Arguello (85-8, 68 KO) won his first world title by knocking out champion Alfredo Escalera in what is considered one of the most brutal fights in history. In the bout Escalera had his eye, mouth and nose broken.

    He also knocked out such notable fighters as future world champions Bobby Chacon and Rolando Navarette, Rafael "Bazooka" Limon and Ruben Castillo. 

    His dominance, and particularly his knockout power against high-level opposition, make Arguello the most exciting junior lightweight in history.

Lightweight: Roberto Duran

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    Many great fighters competed at lightweight throughout the history of the sport. Julio Cesar Chavez, Floyd Mayweather, Pernell Whitaker etc.

    Duran (103-16, 70 KO) dominated the lightweight division during the 1970s, culminating in his first title win in 1972 when he captured the WBA and Ring Magazine championships.

    He would hold the title for seven years and would make 12 successful defenses with 11 coming by knockout. During that stretch he also had several notable non-title bouts.

    As a lightweight, Duran amassed an impressive 62-1 record—the lone loss was in a non-title fight at junior welterweight and was later brutally avenged more than once—and never lost his title.

    Duran's frantic, hard-hitting style was pretty to watch and scary to fight, and this makes him the most exciting, and many feel the best, lightweight of all time.

Junior Welterweight: Julio Cesar Chavez

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    Julio Cesar Chavez is not just the greatest fighter to ever come out of Mexico, he's also the most exciting junior welterweight in history. 

    Chavez (108-6-2, 87 KO) won three world championships at junior welterweight and scored one of the biggest comebacks in the sport's history when he knocked out Meldrick Taylor in the final seconds of their 1990 title bout. 

    The ending is still debated as Taylor was well ahead on the scorecards at the time of the stoppage. 

    Chavez also dominated the late, trash-talking Hector "Macho" Camacho, winning virtually every round in a fight that was noted for its exciting and hostile build-up.

    The Mexican warrior as at his best that night and turned in a virtuoso performance.

Welterweight: Sugar Ray Leonard

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    Sugar Ray Leonard possessed one of the most unique combinations of speed, power and pure boxing ability of any fighter in the sport's history. 

    Leonard was 36-3-1 with 25 knockouts—with two of those losses coming well beyond his prime—won his first 25 fights in order to earn a showdown against a fellow undefeated fighter, Puerto Rican Wilfred Benitez.

    Sugar Ray stopped Benitez after a tactical war in the 15th round that also featured the Puerto Rican champion being deposited to the canvas by a Leonard jab.

    He would go on to stop tough Brit Dave Green in his next fight before losing an extremely close unanimous decision to Roberto Duran. The Panamanian fighter would become the only man to ever beat Sugar Ray in his prime.

    Leonard would get his revenge in the rematch by stopping Duran in the eighth round to regain his welterweight crown.  He would also successfully defend it against Tommy Hearns, stopping "The Hitman" in the 14th round.

Junior Middleweight: Terry Norris

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    Would Terry Norris beat Tommy Hearns in a mythical matchup at junior middleweight? Most would rightfully doubt it, but that doesn't do anything to dismiss his dominance, longevity and excitement at the weight. 

    Norris (47-9, 31 KO) held the WBC junior middleweight title on four separate occasions, totaling 16 successful defenses. He holds wins over John Mugabi, Simon Brown, Donald Curry, Jorge Castro and Paul Vaden.

    He also defeated welterweight standouts and champions Meldrick Taylor and Maurice Blocker, future middleweight champion Quincy Taylor and super middleweight champion Steve Little.

    His most notable win came in dominant fashion over a returning Sugar Ray Leonard in 1991. The bout was a little over a year after Leonard had bested Roberto Duran for a second time and subsequently quit the sport. 

    It was not Leonard at his best but it wasn't far off and it counts as an impressive victory.

    Norris' style was also very exciting because he was known for his temper and had a propensity to slip outside of the rules. He was disqualified in three bouts for infractions.

Middleweight: Marvin Hagler

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    Marvelous Marvin Hagler may not be the greatest middleweight of all time, though he's certainly in the discussion, but there is little doubt he is the most exciting.

    Hagler (62-3-2, 52 KO) was able to box you, fight you, out-think you and beat you up. He had great power in both hands. He held the undisputed middleweight championship from 1980 to 1987 and holds wins over some of the greatest fighters not only of his, but of any, era.

    Those include, of course, a unanimous decision over Roberto Duran and a third-round TKO of Tommy Hearns, both to retain the undisputed middleweight championship.

    Hagler's lone loss, after rising to middleweight dominance, came in highly controversial fashion against Sugar Ray Leonard in what would prove to be his final fight.

    The fight remains disputed to this day, with wildly divergent opinions about who actually won, as Leonard secured a narrow split-decision victory. Ringside opinion was mixed and scores ran the gamut of opinions from a convincing victory for either fighter to a close could-go-either-way contest.

Super Middleweight: Nigel Benn

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    While Joe Calzaghe is the best super middleweight fighter of all time, the award for most exciting goes to a fellow fighter from the United Kingdom in Nigel Benn.

    Benn (42-5-1, 35 KO) had very, very few dull moments inside of a boxing ring. When you tuned in for one of his fights you knew you were in for a night of power punching and high drama.

    He was nicknamed "The Dark Destroyer" for his hard-hitting and oftentimes reckless style in the ring. He would throw many punches with mean intentions, but he'd also take a lot in return.

    Benn won his first 22 bouts, all by knockout, and is most famous for his brutal title defense against Gerald McClellan. 

    The Brit won the fight via 10th-round stoppage in a bout few felt he could win. Unfortunately, McClellan was severely injured as a result of a blood clot that developed in his brain during the fight.

    McClellan was left mostly blind and confined to a wheelchair due to his injures, and Benn was never the same fighter again.

Light Heavyweight: Archie Moore

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    Archie Moore, "The Old Mongoose," held the light-heavyweight championship for nearly 10 years and established himself as one of the sport's most fierce punchers. 

    During his career he won a ridiculous 185 fights, with 131 of those coming inside the distance. The knockouts are a boxing record, as is his lengthy reign at 175 pounds that isn't likely to be surpassed.

    Moore is largely considered to be one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters in history and held notable wins over Bobo Olson, Joey Maxim, Jimmy Bivins and Harold Johnson. 

    He tried several times to solve the puzzle of fellow legend Ezzard Charles without success in their three bouts. But with his knockout power and longevity, Archie Moore established a reign of light-heavyweight dominance and success unlikely to be repeated.

Cruiserweight: Evander Holyfield

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    Many boxing fans don't realized that before Evander "Real Deal" Holyfield was a legendary heavyweight fighter he was the most dominant cruiserweight in history. 

    Simply put, he is the standard by which all future cruiserweights will be measured. 

    Holyfield won his first cruiserweight world title in just his 12th professional bout, surviving a war with WBA champion Dwight Muhammad Qawi to win a 15-round split decision.

    He would go on to also capture the IBF title, and beat Henry Tillman, before knocking out Qawi in the fourth round of their rematch. By this point his cruiserweight dominance was without question.

    Before leaving for heavyweight, Holyfield would defeat Carlos de Leon to capture the WBC championship.

    He was then and remains to this day the first man to unify and hold all three major championships in the cruiserweight division.

Heavyweight: Mike Tyson

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    Is there any doubt who the most exciting heavyweight in history would be? 

    "Iron" Mike Tyson was the single most dominant and frightening force to ever hit the heavyweight division. His reign of terror during the mid- and late 1980s is legendary.

    To say he was a knockout machine would be an understatement. Tyson's fights were spectacles, and people tuned in just to see how fast he could knock out the poor sap that stood across the ring from him.

    He became the youngest man to ever capture the undisputed heavyweight championship, quickly on the heels of starting his career 19 straight knockouts, including 12 in the first round.

    Tyson's crowning moment as a pro likely came in 1988 when he defeated Michael Spinks in 91 seconds in a bout that was both highly anticipated and highly shocking. 

    Spinks, who had shocked the world by moving from light-heavyweight to heavyweight and defeating Larry Holmes twice, never stood a chance and looked scared before the opening bell.

    Personal troubles aside, there is no doubt that Mike Tyson was a freak in the ring and the most exciting heavyweight in history.