Boxing is a tough sport to get ahead in. To even fight for several years and compile a winning record as a professional is far tougher than many fans seem to understand.
To put together a long enough winning streak to earn consideration as a challenger takes rare talent. To win a belt and hold onto it for multiple defenses, in most cases, makes you elite.
To turn back challenger after challenger, for year after year, makes you an all-time great. But even most Hall of Famers only manage to stay at the very top for a limited run.
It's the very rare fighter who manages to clean out a weight class and turn back all comers, to the point where their reign becomes an era in itself.
In terms of longevity, Bernard Hopkins has had the most impressive career of any professional athlete in history. In May 2011, he became the oldest fighter ever to win a major world title when he captured the lineal 175-pound championship from Jean Pascal in Montreal at age 46.
In March of this year, he broke his own record when he beat Tavoris Cloud for the IBF light heavyweight title at age 48.
But the Executioner's record of pure dominance happened between 1995 and 2005, when he ruled the middleweight division.
In April 1995, he captured the IBF middleweight belt by defeating Segundo Mercado. He defended the belt 13 times before beating Keith Holmes in April 2001 to add the WBC belt to his collection.
In September 2001, Hopkins had perhaps the finest moment of his career when he beat Puerto Rican legend Felix Trinidad by Round 12 TKO to add the WBA strap to his trophy case.
In September 2004, Hopkins beat his current Golden Boy partner, Oscar De La Hoya, by Round 9 knockout to earn the WBO title and become the unified, undisputed champion.
In all, Hopkins made 20 successful defenses as the middleweight world champion, a division record.
Marvin Hagler ruled over the middleweight division from 1980 to 1987 with two iron fists. Before that, he spent years as the most-avoided fighter in the sport, so it can be argued that his run of dominance at 160 began long before he was actually allowed to ascend to the throne.
In November 1979, Hagler faced Vito Antuofermo for the world title but came away with only a draw. It is widely considered among the worst decisions of all time.
When Hagler got his next shot at the belt in 1980 against Alan Minter, he left nothing to chance, TKOing the champ in three. For the next seven years, the Marvelous One ran roughshod over the division. He won 12 straight defenses, with 11 stoppages.
Highlights of Hagler's reign include a hard-fought unanimous decision over the legendary Roberto Duran and a three-round war against Tommy Hearns that rates as among the most exciting fights of all time.
Hagler lost the title to Sugar Ray Leonard by split decision in 1987 in what remains one of the most-disputed decisions of the past 30 years.
The past several years of Roy Jones' carer have been so bad that it might be tough for younger fans to appreciate how great he was at the height of his powers. For more than a decade, he was the class of the sport.
Jones captured the vacant IBF middleweight title by beating Bernard Hopkins in May 1993. In November 1994, he jumped to super middleweight to capture James Toney's 168-pound crown.
I would rate Hopkins and Toney as the two next best fighters of that generation, and Jones beat them both decisively.
In November 1996, Jones captured the interim WBC light heavyweight belt by defeating Mike McCallum. Jones would eventually unify all of the belts at 175 before moving all the way up to heavyweight to capture the WBA title from John Ruiz in March 2003.
The win made RJ Jr. the first former middleweight champion since Bob Fitzsimmons to go on to capture the heavyweight crown in more than 100 years.
Fighters in the smallest weight classes rarely get the same attention or generate the same excitement as larger competitors. Even fans who respect what they do and are interested will likely have trouble finding a lot of coverage of them.
The fighter who broke the mold in this regard is Ricardo Lopez. El Finito was a near-perfect boxer with serious punching power. Lopez was promoted by Don King and featured on many big cards.
Lopez captured the minimumweight title in 1990 and held it for almost the entire decade, defending it 21 times. In 1998, Lopez vacated the belt to move up to light flyweight. He was the world champion there from 1999 until his retirement in 2002.
Lopez is one of a handful of champions to retire undefeated. His professional record is 51-0-1, with 38 KOs. He was 10-0-1 against current and former world champions, with seven knockouts.
Jimmy Wilde had one of the best and most apt nicknames in boxing history. The Mighty Atom was the perfect sobriquet to attach to the tiny yet incredibly destructive son of Welsh miners.
Standing just 5'2” and weighing in at 108 pounds, Wilde compiled a 134-4-1 record between 1911 and 1923, with 99 KOs. He ruled as the flyweight champion of the world for the last seven years of his career.
Wilde is ranked by British sportswriter Gareth Davies as the second-best fighter to ever come out of the United Kingdom in The Ultimate Book of Boxing Lists, edited by Bert Sugar and Teddy Atlas. In the same book, both Atlas and Sugar rate Wilde as the greatest flyweight of all time.
Archie Moore was the Bernard Hopkins of your grandparents' generation. And like most things from that era, the older version seems a little bit better, at least in retrospect.
By the time Archie Moore captured the light heavyweight championship by beating Joey Maxim in 1952, he was 36 and had been a professional fighter for 17 years. He'd spent more than a decade as a top-rated middleweight contender.
Moore spent the next decade ruling the division at 175. His reign is all the more remarkable for the fact that he moonlighted for much of that time as a top-three heavyweight contender. He would fight a heavyweight fight weighing over 190, then be back down to 175 a few months later to defend the belt.
In his three-decade professional career, Moore compiled a record of 185-23-10, with 131 KOs, the most stoppages in recorded boxing history. BoxRec's algorithms rank Moore as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter of all time.
In George Kimball's The Four Kings, Roberto Duran is celebrated as part of the group that included Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler. Fighting at welterweight, junior middleweight and middleweight, these men made the 1980s the last golden era of boxing.
But before Duran ever jumped to 147 in the 1980s, he had spent the 1970s establishing himself as arguably the greatest lightweight of all time. In 1972, he beat Ken Buchanan, perhaps the United Kingdom's best boxer ever, to capture the WBA 135-pound belt.
Duran lost a decision in a non-title fight to the brilliant Esteban De Jesus later that year, but he avenged it twice by stoppage and generally wreaked havoc on the division for most of the rest of the decade.
Duran was a relentless, attacking fighter who developed solid defensive techniques under the tutelage of Ray Arcel.
His nickname was Manos De Piedra: Hands of Stone. At 135 pounds, Roberto Duran was possibly the most brutally exciting fighter of all time.
In 1978, Duran vacated his title and moved to welterweight. He captured the welterweight title in 1980 when he handed Sugar Ray Leonard the first loss of the young superstar's career.
Leonard fought a tactically perfect fight in the rematch and a frustrated Duran shocked the world by quitting on his stool after eight rounds. Duran would never again be a dominant fighter, but he was far from done.
In 1983, he won the junior middleweight title by defeating Davey Moore. He was the only challenger until Leonard to go the distance with Marvin Hagler during Hagler's reign at middleweight.
In 1989, Duran finally captured the middleweight crown at nearly 40 when he beat Iran Barkley.
I had a hard time deciding to rate Homicide Henry Armstrong as only No. 3 on this list. He defended the welterweight title a record 19 times, and that only begins to explain how dominant he was.
In October 1937, Armstrong won the world featherweight title from Petey Sarron. In 1938, he captured the welterweight title from Barney Ross, then later in the year added the lightweight championship.
Armstrong vacated the featherweight belt shortly afterward, but for a brief period, he held all three world titles. In an era when there were just eight divisions and world titles were undisputed, Armstrong was the only world champion from 126 to 147 pounds.
With extra modern weight classes and all of the ridiculous interim championships awarded by the competing promotional organizations today, I'm not even sure I could accurately count how many various “world” champions currently reign between 126 and 147.
But the number would be somewhere around 20, give or take a few.
Amazingly, Armstrong nearly captured the middleweight title in March 1940 when he drew with the champion, Ceferino Garcia. A win would have given him half of the available world championships in less than three years' time.
Joe Louis held the heavyweight title from 1937 to 1949 in an era when the belt was considered the biggest title in sports. He made a record 25 defenses.
Louis' reign is sometimes disparaged to a degree due to his quality of opposition. Sportswriters of the time dubbed Louis' string of opponents “the bum of the month club.”
But Louis' dominance was so total it's hardly surprising if he wanted for quality opponents at times.
By the time Louis' career was four years old, he had already knocked out five former world champions: Jack Sharkey, Max Baer, Max Schmeling, Primo Carnera and James Braddock.
Sharkey, Schmeling and Baer were all quality world champions who seem less worthy in retrospect merely for being in Louis' shadow. Including Joe Walcott, Louis beat six other heavyweight champs.
Louis is one of the most important figures in the history of race relations in America. His showdown with the German Schmeling in the years leading up to World War II marked the first time in history that white Americans had rallied so strongly behind a black man for any reason.
Sugar Ray Robinson is widely regarded as the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time. He won his first 40 professional fights before finally dropping a decision to fellow Hall of Famer Jake LaMotta in 1943.
Robinson then went undefeated for the next eight years, collecting the welterweight and then the middleweight world titles and running his record to 128-1-2 before finally losing a fight to Englishman Randy Turpin by decision in July 1951.
Two months later, he knocked out Turpin in the rematch to reclaim his title. He beat Bobo Olson in March 1952 and knocked out the super-tough Rocky Graziano a month later.
In June 1952, Robinson challenged light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim in Yankee Stadium and was far ahead on the cards when he collapsed in exhaustion from the 105-degree heat after Round 13.
Robinson retired for two years but then returned in 1955 and went on to win the middleweight title three more times.