Manny Pacquiao and the 10 Greatest Weight Climbers in Boxing History
Manny Pacquiao is not just a fighter but a pugilistic genius. Not just a man but a megastar and a hero to his people.
On April 14 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, "Pac-Man" will square off with pound-for-pound star Timothy Bradley in a rematch of their blunder of a decision in June 2012. Pacquiao looks to add to a legacy that already places him amongst the sport's very greatest combatants.
Since turning professional at the age of 16, he has come a long, long way. The sport has seen him grow from a 106-pound strawweight into an eight-division world champion.
Scaling weight like this has become an essential part of defining a boxer's legacy. But weight climbing, like boxing itself, is about whom you defeat and not just the literal weight ascended.
Pac-Man is the greatest weight climber of his time not only because of the pounds gained but the quality of competition that he has faced.
But just where does this modern-day great rank all time? Does his astonishing collection of belts in eight different weight divisions outshine the weight-climbing exploits of every legend of yesteryear? In a sport with such a deep history, it would be great to find out.
So here is Bleacher Report's stab at it.
Tipping the Scales: Honorable Mentions Part 1
Boxing's rich history is jam-packed with great fighters. In addition, much of their greatness derives from tremendous weight-climbing achievements. This slide and the next one feature 10 men who missed making the top 10 here by the thinnest of margins. And, even still, a few names you might have expected to see on this list will be missing.
Considered one of the greatest European boxers of all time, Carpentier fought in every weight class from flyweight to heavyweight. But this Frenchman with dynamite in his right hand accomplished little of note below welterweight and more often than not faltered against world-class competition at middleweight and above.
Oscar De La Hoya
As one of the largest super featherweights you will ever see, the "Golden Boy" won his first major world title in March 1994. Ten years later, he defeated Felix Sturm for the WBO middleweight title, becoming the first fighter in boxing history to win world titles in six different weight divisions.
After putting together arguably the greatest run in lightweight history, Duran would fight professionally until the age of 50. When it was all said and done, "Manos de Piedra" won world titles at lightweight, welterweight, junior middleweight and middleweight.
No stranger to being overlooked, Masahiko—better known as Fighting Harada—is technically only a two-division world champion. But he is one of boxing's greatest weight climbers. This beautiful stylist knocked out the excellent Pone Kingpetch for the WBA world flyweight title in 1962, fought through the greatest bantamweight division of all time (lifting the WBC and WBA bantamweight titles from Eder Jofre) and in 1969 battled the WBC featherweight champion Johnny Famechon for 15 rounds (sending him to the canvas three times) to a controversial points decision loss.
Thomas "Hitman" Hearns' length and ferocious power made him a stylistic nightmare in many weight classes. In addition to winning the WBA welterweight title, he had a body frame and skill set that were capable of winning major world titles at junior middleweight, middleweight, super middleweight and even light heavyweight.
Honorable Mentions Part 2
Roy Jones Jr.
This author is under the notion that there has yet to be a fighter captured on film who is more talented than Roy Jones Jr. He possessed an otherworldly blend of speed and power and used those tools to take full advantage of watered-down world titles, winning belts at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight.
Ted Kid Lewis
Lewis was one of the sport's most battle-tested combatants, partaking in more than 300 professional bouts. He is most remembered for his time as a welterweight, but he also fought from flyweight all the way up to light heavyweight.
Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Today, boxing starts and ends with "Money" Mayweather. From super featherweight to junior middleweight, he has showcased almost untouchable defensive acumen. With his flawless showing against Saul Alvarez, he continues to be the world's premier boxer, regardless of weight class.
Sugar Ray Robinson
Robinson took the art of pugilism to a whole new level. His mix of impeccable technique and God-given ability made him a force to be reckoned with at three different weight divisions. He may have only won world titles at welterweight and middleweight, but he was also once the world's best lightweight and in 1952 challenged Joey Maxim for the world light heavyweight title.
It is not easy making sense of Toney's career. At his best, he was pure science. At his worst, brash and downright vile. But none of that can take away from what he did inside the squared circle. Regardless of weight issues, winning belts at middleweight, super middleweight, light heavyweight and even heavyweight (and never succumbing to knockout, no less) is nothing to scoff at.
10. Len Harvey
Len Harvey weighed just 68 pounds when he made his professional debut in 1920 at the tender age of 12. By 18, he had already worked his way up the professional ladder with 68 fights to face Harry Mason for the British welterweight title.
When his career was all said and done, he would fight in every single weight division of his day. He put together an incredible record of 61-4-6, growing in and out of the flyweight, bantamweight, featherweight, lightweight and welterweight divisions.
All of this before his 20th birthday.
He finally leveled off at middleweight, where he would find worldwide acclaim by defeating Hall of Famer Marcel Thil, the legendary Dave Shade and the likes of Andy Newton, Joe Bloomfield, Alex Ireland, Frank Moody, Jack Hood (twice), Rene de Vos, Jock McAvoy (Harvey’s rival who was another great weight climber who barely missed making this list), Len Johnson and Jack Casey.
He first picked up the British middleweight title in 1929 and would eventually win the British light heavyweight and heavyweight titles in 1933. This, along with victories over notable heavyweights Jack Peterson, Larry Gains and Jock McAvoy (again), would be enough to earn Harvey a title shot against world light heavyweight champion John Henry Lewis in 1936.
9. Tony Canzoneri
Along with Barney Ross and Jimmy McLarnin, Tony Canzoneri helped make up boxing's great Holy Trinity. This three-way rivalry defined the sport in the 1930s. But much of his greatness stems from what he managed to do before ever meeting those two fantastic fighters.
He made his professional debut in July 1925, and thanks to wins over the likes of Archie Bell, Davey Abad and Bushy Graham, by the end of 1926, Canzoneri was already one of the pre-eminent bantamweights in the world.
But “Canzi” didn’t stop there.
He would eventually move up to featherweight and defeat Vic Burrone, Johnny Green, Pete Sarmiento and Hall of Famers Charles “Bud” Taylor, Johnny Dundee and Benny Bass.
A pit stop at junior lightweight saw him pick up wins against Vic Foley, Bobby Garcia, Chick Suggs and Andre Routis.
But lightweight and junior welterweight are where "Canzi" really branded a name for himself. He defeated Eddie Mack, Johnny Farr (three times), Joe Glick, Benny Bass (again), Goldie Hess, Al Singer, Sammy Fuller, Jack "Kid" Berg (two times), Cecil Payne (two times), Kid Chocolate (two times), Lew Massey, Battling Gizzy, Billy Petrolle, Johnny Jadick, Battling Shaw, Frankie Klick (four times), Cleto Locatelli (two times), Pete Nebo (two times), Harry Dublinsky, Lou Ambers, Bobby Pacho, Joe Ghnouly, Al Roth and Baby Arizmendi.
As if that wasn’t enough, he still found time to defeat Billy Hogan, Bobby Pacho (again) and the aforementioned Jimmy McLarnin at welterweight before retiring in 1939.
Canzoneri ended his career with an incredible record of 141-24-10, fighting from bantamweight all the way up to welterweight, picking up five world titles and defeating six Hall of Famers.
8. Ezzard Charles
If anyone ever epitomized the “sweet” in the Sweet Science, it was Ezzard Charles. He was a master boxer deluxe. Quite possibly the smoothest operator in boxing history, he would get this author's nod for the greatest fighter of the 1940s.
The "Cincinnati Cobra's" weight-climbing efforts are legendary. He was once the No. 1 middleweight in the world, is the greatest light heavyweight of all time and won the world heavyweight title in 1949.
He made his professional debut as a middleweight in March 1940 and wasted no time in solidifying his place amongst the very best boxers in the world. By June 1942, he was the premier middleweight in the world, defeating the likes of Marty Simmons, Teddy Yarosz, Anton Christoforidis and the legendary Charley Burley two times.
But Charles was unsuccessful in securing a title fight with champion Tony Zale. It wouldn’t be the last time he was too great for his own good.
He moved up to the light heavyweight division. And outside of two hiccups in his first encounters with Jimmy Bivins and Lloyd Marshall, he steamrolled that division, defeating Archie Moore (three times), the aforementioned Lloyd Marshall (two times) and Jimmy Bivins (two times), Oakland Billy Smith (two times), Erv Sarlin (two times), Fitzie Fitzpatrick (two times), Sam Baroudi and Joey Maxim (two times).
Even after cleaning out his second straight weight division, Charles was still unable to find himself in a world title bout.
But being the world-beater that he was, he went right on up to heavyweight. And for a man who began his career at middleweight, his victories at heavyweight are astonishing.
Along with winning the title and defending it eight times, Charles defeated: Elmer Ray, Erv Sarlin (two times), Joe Baksi, Gus Lesnevich, Pat Valentino, Freddie Beshore, Nick Barone, Lee Oma, Rex Layne (two times), Joe Kahut, Cesar Brion, Tommy Harrison, Bob Satterfield, Coley Wallace, Charley Norkus and John Holman—not to mention Hall of Famers Joey Maxim (three more times), Jimmy Bivins (two more times), Jersey Joe Walcott (two times) and the one and only Joe Louis.
Now please tell me how amazing Roy Jones Jr.'s victory over the plodding John Ruiz was again...
7. Jimmy McLarnin
The second and last corner of The Holy Trinity to make this list is Jimmy McLarnin.
Also known as the “Dublin Dynamiter” and the “Irish Lullaby,” he was one of the greatest welterweights to ever lace up a pair of boxing gloves. But what he did below 147 pounds was astonishing all the same.
McLarnin made his professional debut in 1923 on his 16th birthday at no more than 104 pounds. As just an adolescent flyweight, he defeated future bantamweight standout Young Nationalista and Hall of Famer Fidel LaBarba (two times), who within a year would win the world flyweight title.
Growing out of flyweight and weighing 121 pounds, a 17-year-old McLarnin pulled off one of the most mind-boggling wins in boxing history, outboxing the great flyweight champion Pancho Villa (115 pounds) over 10 rounds. And just four months later, McLarnin knocked out Hall of Famer Jackie Fields.
Continuing his march up to welterweight, he picked up excellent wins at featherweight, junior lightweight and lightweight, defeating Joe Glick (three times), Billy Wallace, Sid Terris, Ray Miller (two times) and Hall of Famer Louis "Kid" Kaplan.
And what can you say about McLarnin’s run at welterweight?
He defeated Sergeant Sammy Baker, Ruby Goldstein, Young Jack Thompson, Al Singer, Sammy Fuller and Hall of Famers Benny Leonard, Young Corbett III (knocking Corbett out for the first time in his career), Billy Petrolle (two times), Lou Ambers, Sammy Mandell (two times) and the other two corners of the Holy Trinity: Tony Canzoneri and Barney Ross.
In total, McLarnin defeated 12 different Hall of Famers 15 times. He accomplished all of this with less than 70 fights to his name.
6. Harry Greb
In March 1913, an 18-year-old Harry Greb participated in a three-night amateur boxing tournament in the 145-pound weight class. He won all three of his fights and earned himself a gold medal.
Within a year of his professional debut, he would grow into the middleweight division. But despite facing the world's best light heavyweights and heavyweights during his career, he would never weigh in at more than 173 pounds for the next 11 years.
And what an 11 years it was.
Greb didn’t “climb” weight classes like the other men on this list. What he did was arguably even more impressive. He maintained roughly the same weight throughout his career and simply stepped into the ring with whomever would have him, regardless of their weight.
He was the personification of violence. You see, no one fought Greb; instead, they could only hope to fight him off.
And fighting, as he loved to do, (about 21 times a year) Greb defeated:
- Standout middleweights Jackie Clarke (three times), Bob Moha (six times), Augie Ratner (two times), Tommy Robson (three times), Frank Mantell, Gus Christie, Terry Martin, Silent Martin, Buck Crouse, Young Ahearn, Joe Borrell (two times), Fay Keiser (seven times), Ted Moore (two times), Jimmy Darcy (three times), Willie Brennan (two times), Whitey Wenzel (six times), Soldier Bartfield (three times), Bryan Downey, Frank Moody, Roland Todd, middleweight champions Al McCoy (two times), George Chip (two times), Johnny Wilson (three times), Eddie McGoorty and Hall of Fame middleweights Leo Houck (three times), Jeff Smith (six times), Mike Gibbons and Mickey Walker.
- World-class light heavyweights Lou Bogash, Chuck Wiggins (nine times), Jimmy Delaney (three times), Allentown Joe Gans, Billy Shade (two times), Jack Reddick, Art Weigand, light heavyweight champion Mike McTigue (two times), Hall of Fame light heavyweights Jack Dillon (two times), Battling Levinsky (six times), Jimmy Slattery, Maxie Rosenbloom, Kid Norfolk, Tommy Loughran (six times), Tommy Gibbons (two times) and Gene Tunney.
- And every single heavyweight he ever stepped into the ring with, including premier heavyweights Jack Renault (two times), Charlie Weinart, Bartley Madden (three times), Gunboat Smith, Bill Brennan (four times), Homer Smith, Martin Burke, Willie Meehan (two times), Bob Roper (six times), Clay Turner (seven times) and Hall of Famer Billy Miske.
It’s a resume that no string of hyperboles and rhetoric could ever do justice.
In his day, Greb defeated the welterweight champion and won the middleweight championship and light heavyweight championship. His list of victims at heavyweight also made him a viable contender at heavyweight. But he was never able to secure a fight with champion Jack Dempsey.
5. Manny Pacquiao
There’s only one eight-division world champion in boxing history.
His name is Manny Pacquaio, and he’s a true throwback to the great boxers of yesteryear. He turned professional when he was just a teenager (16), and when he finds a rival, do you know what he does? Pac-Man fights him, sometimes over and over and over again.
He also scales weight classes like very few have before him.
He weighed in (officially) at a mere 106 pounds when he debuted back in 1995. Less than four years later, he would knock out Chatchai Sasakul to become the very best flyweight in the world.
Now, more than 15 years later and with wins over the likes of Marco Antonio Barrera, Antonio Margarito, Ricky Hatton, Oscar De La Hoya, Erik Morales, Miguel Cotto, Juan Manuel Marquez, Shane Mosely and Brandon Rios, Pacquaio has captured world titles in seven other weight divisions as well as staked a claim for being the top welterweight in the world, at one point or another.
From flyweight to junior middleweight, Pacquaio has captured the hearts of his fans and helped carry the sport that helped mold him into the celebrated figure he is today.
4. Mickey Walker
Mickey Walker was a fighter through and through. “The Toy Bulldog,” as he was fittingly named, devoted his fists to the fight game and feared no man alive.
His fighting career began on February 10, 1919 at the age of 17. Dominic Orsini was his opponent, and according to John Jarrett in his Walker biography, Toy Bulldog: The Fighting Life and Times of Mickey Walker, Walker “hit the scales around 118 pounds: a bantamweight.”
Within two years, Walker would grow into a full-fledged welterweight. And with wins over Dave Shade (two times) and Soldier Bartfield (three times), he earned himself a title shot against the legendary Jack Britton in 1922 (a rematch of their first bout 15 months prior).
This time around, Walker would walk right through Britton to lift the world welterweight title. Just over two years and four title defenses later, Walker, the welterweight champion, would fight Mike McTigue, the light heavyweight champion.
As almost unfathomable as this matchup sounds, Jarrett wrote “there was only a ten-pound disparity when the two champions weighed in for the fight...Walker at 149 3/4 pounds to 160 for McTigue."
Walker would outpunch and outclass McTigue, nonetheless earning himself a newspaper decision victory. Which meant, since he was unable to knock McTigue out, the title did not change hands.
Unfazed, Walker went on doing what he did best: fighting.
After two more welterweight title defenses, he implemented his will on the middleweight division. He earned himself a shot at the middleweight championship and capitalized on it by knocking out Tommy Milligan.
Walker defended his middleweight title three times before cementing his legacy by doing what the fans loved seeing him do the most: picking on the big fellas.
Usually only weighing between 163 to 173 pounds, Walker gave up length and weight fighting at light heavyweight and heavyweight. But he still managed to pick up wins over light heavyweight Leo Lomski, notable heavyweights Charley Belanger, Johnny Risko (two times), Bearcat Wright, Jack Gagnon, King Levinsky and Paulino Uzcudun and Hall of Famer Maxie Rosenbloom. Walker knocked out Arthur De Kuh in one round. De Kuh outweighed him by a mind-boggling 48 pounds.
For his efforts, Walker would find himself ranked by The Ring as highly as a Top Five heavyweight.
He is the only welterweight champion in history to find such success at the sport's grandest weight class.
3. Henry Armstrong
Henry Armstrong is the greatest weight climber to never compete above 160 pounds.
But he had very humble beginnings to his boxing career, going 1-3 in his first four fights and 51-10-7 over the first five years of his career as a featherweight. He would also fall short in his quest for divisional supremacy, losing to the No. 1 featherweight Baby Arizmendi two times.
But then in 1937, Armstrong simply decided to stop losing.
Over the next three years, he didn't seem mortal. From January 1937 to September 1940, he went 59-1-1 (arguably 61-0; as a loss to Lou Ambers was a result of point deductions and the draw to Ceferino Garcia was an outright robbery) across three separate weight divisions and winning a world title in every one of them (featherweight, lightweight and welterweight).
At one point, he held all three belts at the same time!
The beginning to such an accomplishment started with victories over the likes of Tony Chavez, Mike Belloise, Aldo Spoldi, Pete DeGrasse, Frankie Klick, Lew Massey and Benny Bass, which earned Armstrong a title shot against featherweight champion Pete Sarron. He took full advantage of this opportunity and knocked Sarron out in the sixth round.
Now featherweight champion, he picked up wins against Tony Chavez (again) and Chalky Wright, lightweights Billy Beauhuld and Lew Feldman, and rival Baby Arizmendi.
Next up was welterweight champion Barney Ross and Armstrong’s chance to pull off the single greatest weight-climbing feat in boxing history.
Armstrong, the featherweight champion, jumped clear across the lightweight division to fight the welterweight kingpin, and as it turned out, it wasn’t even a fight but a pummeling. For 15 rounds, Armstrong battered Ross all over the ring. And all of this by a human dynamo who weighed no more than a lightweight (133 pounds).
The featherweight champion had dismantled the welterweight champion whilst weighing in as just a lightweight.
That’s how destructive “Homicide Hank” was. And he wasn’t done.
Less than three months later, he would step into the ring with lightweight champion Lou Ambers for a shot at immortality. After a thrilling performance by both men, Armstrong was crowned the lightweight champion of the world.
And with that, he became the only boxer to ever hold three universally recognized titles simultaneously.
From there, he vacated his featherweight title and went on to defend his welterweight crown an unprecedented 19 times.
2. Bob Fitzsimmons
Bob Fitzsimmons may be the hardest hitter in boxing history.
He was 50 years old at the time of his last recorded bout, and 100 years later his punching prowess still sends chills down the spines of historians. He had a sort of frightening, unexplainable power that saw him make a mockery of the concept of separating fighters by weight, time and time again.
He had the kind of power that put 300-pound behemoth Millard Zender to sleep in one round, while Fitzsimmons weighed no more than 160 pounds as a middleweight.
Nicknamed "Ruby," he registered 59 total knockouts and became boxing's very first triple crown winner, picking up world titles at middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight.
His collection of titles began on January 14, 1891. His opponent was the very best fighter in the world: Nonpareil Jack Dempsey for the middleweight championship. And Dempsey never stood a chance.
For 13 rounds, a 150-pound Fitzsimmons bludgeoned Dempsey (147 1/2 pounds) into submission and a stoppage victory.
Six years of destruction later (a period of time that saw him knock out over 20 opponents, including two wins over heavyweight great Peter Maher, despite being outweighed by no less than 13 pounds each time, and the violent-punching Joe Choynski), Fitzsimmons challenged James J. Corbett for the heavyweight crown.
Fitzsimmons, the No. 1 middleweight in the world, would hand the heavyweight champion Corbett the very first loss of his career, knocking him out with a single punch in Round 14.
Weighing in under the modern-day super middleweight limit and giving up close to 40 pounds, Ruby lost the heavyweight strap in a valiant effort against the powerhouse James J. Jeffries.
After KO wins over notables Gus Ruhlin and Tom Sharkey and another defeat to Jeffries (this time being outweighed by 47 pounds), Fitzsimmons faced off with the light heavyweight champion of the world, George Gardner.
Gardner, fresh off a knockout victory over Jack Root for the recently developed 170-pound light heavyweight title, extended Fitzsimmons the full scheduled 20 rounds.
At 40 years of age, Fitzsimmons was awarded the decision victory and became the first man to win undisputed world titles in three separate weight classes, setting a benchmark in weight climbing for all fighters to come.
1. Sam Langford
Sam Langford is often referred to as "the greatest fighter to never win a world championship." While this is true, it does not even begin to do him justice.
For Langford, and all of his genius and courage, is possibly the greatest boxer the sport has ever seen. And it's quite easy to see why when a careful look is taken at his almost inconceivable weight-climbing exploits.
Standing just a shade over 5'7", he ascended boxing's weight divisions like a fistic crusader, defeating notable and even Hall of Fame opponents at lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight.
This illustrious drive up to glory began on December 8, 1903 when he, just a teenager, outboxed Joe Gans, the No. 1 lightweight in the world. About eight months later, Langford defeated another legendary lightweight in George "Elbows" McFadden—this time by knockout and in less than two rounds.
In his very next fight, Langford challenged the ferocious "Barbados" Joe Walcott for the welterweight championship. In a close contest, the bout was declared a draw, although numerous publications declared Langford had been robbed.
Unfazed, he continued his climb and let his presence be known in the middleweight division. Amongst his notable middleweight victims was Hall of Famer Stanley Ketchel.
At light heavyweight and above, though, Langford would develop into a full-grown man and be at his most destructive.
From 1908 to 1913, never weighing in more than 199 pounds, he put together a run that included 51 wins to just three losses (defeating opponents such as Jeff Clark and Philadelphia Jack O'Brien).
Thereafter, campaigning in the heavyweight division and giving up insurmountable weight and length to his opponents, the undersized Langford pulled out victories against the likes of Gunboat Smith, Battling Jim Johnson, Tut Jackson and Hall of Famers Harry Wills, Kid Norfolk, Joe Jeannette and Sam McVea.
By the end of his long, 24-year career, Langford was almost completely blind. He, like his legacy, was forced to fight through obscurity and darkness.
But with fists that got the better of all-time greats from lightweight all the way up to heavyweight, he should be remembered as the greatest weight climber in boxing history. But as much acclaim as that is, Langford still deserves so much more.