Ranking the All-Time Greatest Boxers Not in the Hall of Fame
His name, along with his epic trilogy with Mickey Ward and countless other exciting moments throughout his career, send chills down your spine.
But didn’t his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame just leave a bad taste in your mouth?
Well it should have.
Gatti was exciting, sure. But with a core group of top wins being some assortment of Micky Ward, Tracy Harris Patterson and Leo Dorin—that’s just not going to cut it for me. And it shouldn’t for you, either.
But, at the same time, it didn’t the least surprise me—seeing as how many great fighters weren’t in the Hall of Fame already.
The Hall of Fame is a joke. It was a joke even before they inducted Sylvester Stallone into it.
Yes, Stallone—the actor.
But that’s just what it is. It’s the Hall of Fame. So I wouldn’t expect anything else.
So this slideshow goes out to those fighters that history has forgotten.
To the neglected, to the ignored and to the disregarded. This goes out to the overlooked, the shoved aside, the written-off—those more-than-worthy combatants’ legacies, consigned to oblivion.
I’m not saying these men belong in the IBHOF—because, frankly, an induction wouldn’t do them justice. What I am saying, however—is they’re indisputably greater than one Arturo “Thunder” Gatti, that's for sure.
These are the greatest boxers not in the Hall of Fame.
My only regret is I could not fit them all.
(The Fighting Ghost)
Notable Wins: Peter Maher (three times), Dave Holly, Battling Levinsky (two times), Joe Jeannette, Kid Norfolk and Sam Langford (two times)
Notable Wins: Frank Klause (two times), Gus Christie (two times), Joe Borrell, Al McCoy (two times), Jimmy Clabby, Silent Martin, Harry Greb, Jack Dillon
(The Indiana Cyclone)
Notable Wins: Paddy Lavin, Dixie Kid, Mike Twin Sullivan, Willie KO Brennan, Eddie McGoorty, Dave Smith (three times), George Chip (two times), Al McCoy
Record: 193 (KO 114) – 48-12
Notable Wins: Joe Glick, Tommy White, Ceferino Garcia (two times), Young Peter Jackson, Baby Joe Gans, Cocao Kid (three times), Izzy Jannazzo, Tracey Cox (two times), Eddie Cerda, Fritzie Zivic
(The Nebraska Wildcat)
Notable Wins: Ruby Goldstein, Bert Colima, Lew Tendler (two times), Sergeant Sammy Baker (two times), Al Mello, Rene De Vos, King Levinsky
*According to Herbert G. Goldman's Boxing: A Worldwide Record of Bouts and Boxers
10. And 9. Eddie Booker and Jack Chase
In the 1930s and ‘40s there was a group black fighters dubbed the “Murderers Row.”
They were altogether avoided for the most part because of their skin color. But, frankly, they were just too good. Amongst the group were Charley Burley, Lloyd Marshall, Holman Williams, Jack Chase and Eddie Booker.
Burley, Marshall and Williams are in the Hall of Fame. Booker and Chase, are not.
Booker was a very well-rounded fighter who could mix up on the inside or outmaneuver his opponent from the outside. He defeated the likes of Izzy Jannazzo, Lloyd Marshall, Archie Moore, Harry Matthews and Holman Williams.
And Chase did his fair share of defeating quality opponents. He beat Eddie Booker, Aaron Wade (two times), Harry Matthews, Archie Moore and Lloyd Marshall.
Unfortunately, being overlooked is nothing new to these two men.
8. Willie Joyce
Willie Joyce was a very capable fighter and is overshadowed by the great era in which he fought in.
There were four great popular black lightweights in the 1940s: Ike Williams, Beau Jack, Bob Montgomery and Joyce. Joyce is said to be the least great of them—but it’s still a travesty he’s not in the Hall of Fame.
Joyce was known for his wonderful lead jab. He never did win a world title but he utilized his great talent to defeat many a great fighter. This includes victories over Lew Jenkins (two times), Maxie Fisher, Slugger White, Leo Rodak, John Thomas, Ray Lunny, Pete Lello, Ike Williams, Chalky Wright, Allie Stolz, Jackie Wilson, Bobby Ruffin and Henry Armstrong (three times!).
7. Tippy Larkin
Tippy Larkin, born Antonio Pilleteri, was nicknamed “The Garfield Gunner.”
He fought in the 1940s—an era many experts regard as the most talented of all-time. He stepped into the ring with Hall of Famers Lew Jenkins, Jack “Kid” Berg, Ike Williams, Billy Graham, Beau Jack and Henry Armstrong.
And he was never out boxed.
Let me repeat that, Larkin fought Lew Jenkins, Jack “Kid” Berg, Ike Williams, Billy Graham, Beau Jack, Henry Armstrong and many more great fighters from that era—and was never, out boxed.
Larkin just may have been the smoothest, most tactical, best pure boxer of all-time. The only problem was he had a terribly poor chin.
If you were going the distance with Larkin, you weren’t going to win. The only men to pull out a win against him were the sport's biggest punchers.
He made his debut aged just 17. And once he had hit his early 20’s, there was almost no stopping him. From when he turned 20 in 1937, Larkin went 87-9-1-1 through the rest of the ‘30s and entire 1940s.
Over this stretch Larkin won the world junior welterweight title and defeated the likes of Lew Massey, Billy Beauhuld (two times), Steve Halaiko, Tommy Cross, Chester Rico, Leo Rodak, Lulu Constantino, Allie Stolz, Willie Joyce (three times), Aldo Minelli (two times), Ruby Kessler, former world welterweight champion Freddie Cochrane (five times) and the Hall of Fame master-boxer Billy Graham.
And, of course, Al Bummy Davis, Lew Jenkins in one round, Henry Armstrong in two, Beau Jack in three, Charley Fusari twice, Ike Williams in four and Bernard Docusen, also knocked him out.
But against “Homicide Hank” Armstrong, Larkin’s ability was on full display.
For as long as he was conscious (albeit under two rounds), Larkin outclassed arguably the greatest boxer who ever lived. In the opening frame, he completely out-boxed Armstrong. Armstrong found absolutely no success getting inside or through his opponent’s defense and was hit over and over by whatever Larkin threw his way.
If he can do that to Armstrong—what else did his glass chin prevent him from accomplishing?
6. Elbows McFadden
Nat Fleischer dubbed George “Elbows” McFadden “a champion in any other era.”
And that’s all McFadden could ever hope for because the lightweight era he fought in (the first decade or so of the 20th century) could be the deepest ever.
It was headlined by a quartet of great fighters: the immortal Joe Gans, Kid Lavigne, Frank Erne and McFadden. (One other of these four makes this list.)
McFadden was never afraid to get dirty (as you can imagine with the nickname “Elbows”). He only ever challenged for a title once in his career, in 1902 against Gans who could be the greatest lightweight of all-time, but McFadden still has plenty of quality victories and accomplishments.
In his career, McFadden defeated Kid Lavigne, Wilmington Jack Daly, Patsy Sweeney (two times) and holds a knockout victory over Joe Gans. He also shared the ring with Sam Langford.
McFadden is one of the greatest fighters of all time, and Gans’ résumé wouldn’t look nearly as good without the four wins he has over him.
5. Frank Erne
Frank Erne’s record doesn't jump out at you like others. But with 31 wins, Erne’s résumé is really quite deep.
He fought in what many consider the most talent-rich lightweight division ever. The lightweight division from the very early 20th century (1899-1908) was an absolute shark tank.
And what Erne did below lightweight was mighty impressive, as well.
In 1895 Erne outpointed one of the greatest fighters of all time, George Dixon, for the world featherweight title. Erne would lose the title back to Dixon and then move up to lightweight.
Erne defeated every one of the four great lightweights that lead the way in this stacked era. In under two years, he outpointed George Elbows McFadden (which is why I have Erne slightly ahead) over 25 rounds, defeated Kid Lavigne over 20 rounds for the world lightweight title and earned a TKO victory over Joe Gans.
He even challenged Rube Ferns for the welterweight title in 1901 and actually put up a great fight.
Erne retired in 1903 but made a comeback in 1908 and defeated Curly Watson for the welterweight championship of France.
4. Esteban De Jesús
Esteban De Jesús is often remembered for one of two things: his murder conviction in 1981 and being the guy to hand Roberto Duran his first loss.
But he’s really so much more than that.
He was a tremendous boxer—he was as silky-smooth as they get and he never lost his composure inside the ring. In one of the most stacked lightweight divisions of all-time, De Jesús, or “Vita” as he was called, played second fiddle to only Duran. And, as mentioned, he even defeated Duran and was, in turn, the best lightweight in the world until losing to Duran in the return match.
But outside of Duran, De Jesús was every bit as dominant. From 1972 until his last fight in 1980, he never lost to any one at 135 pounds who was not nicknamed “Manos de Piedra.”
De Jesus won the Puerto Rican lightweight title, the NABF lightweight title and the WBC lightweight title, defeating the likes of Angel Robinson Garcia, Ray Lampkin (two times), Raul Montoya, Alfonso Frazer, Hector Julio Medina, Buzzsaw Yamabe, Edwin Viruet and of course Duran.
Duran is arguably the greatest lightweight ever.
When you can say you were in the same lightweight division as Duran, and were still the best 135-pound fighter in the world for a year or so, you know you’re great.
3. Jackie Patterson
Jackie Patterson was a Scottish fighter who carried a destructive punch and won British, European and world titles at flyweight and bantamweight. He’s one of the most underrated boxers of all-time, let alone the most underrated flyweight ever.
He was a massive flyweight and often struggled to make the weight limit. And in his prime, he was an absolute terror in the ring.
His record is very deceiving, 10 of his losses came at the very tail end of his career and he literally always fought high-level competition.
In just his second professional fight, Patterson knocked out future flyweight champion Rinty Monaghan —who was already a veteran of over 30 fights—in five rounds.
In his 16th pro bout, he knocked out the standout flyweight Tut Whalley in one round. After that, Patterson knocked out Eric Jones in another one-round demolition, in what was a title eliminator for the British flyweight title.
In Patterson’s 19th fight, he continued to feed his craving for knockout victories when he decked and finished the excellent Paddy Ryan in 13 rounds.
Patterson, although just a flyweight, was leaving a trail of destruction wherever he laid his tiny fists.
By the time Patterson knocked out Ryan—again—two years later (this time in eight rounds) he was arguably the premiere flyweight in the world.
But Patterson didn’t let up. With the world flyweight title in his sights, he kept swinging, and the brutal knockouts kept coming. And for the next seven years, he would not lose to another flyweight. (His losses during this stretch all came to bantamweights or even featherweights.)
He defeated Richie Kid Tanner (two times, once by knockout), Jimmy Stubs and Norman Lewis before being matched up with Peter Kane for the flyweight championship of the world.
Kane is another of history’s most underrated flyweights. With a record of 70-4-1 and wins over Jackie Jurich, Jimmy Stubbs, Joe Curran (two times), Norman Lewis and Ryan this wasn’t going to be an easy win for Patterson.
But then it was.
On June 19, 1943 Patterson made the boxing world take note when he flattened Kane in the first round. Kane was supposed to be Patterson’s most dangerous opponent—and Patterson crushed him in 61 seconds.
From here, Patterson defeated standouts George Pook, Ronnie Clayton and even Jim Brady and Theo Medina, respectively, for the EBU (European) and Commonwealth bantamweight titles.
He was putting together a truly legendary résumé and beat Joe Curran, Theo Medina (again) and Johnny King before finally being dethroned as champion in 1948.
The discrepancy Patterson created between him and his contemporaries during his prime is astonishing. Thanks to some otherworldly and nightmare inducing knockout power and a ravenous hunger for victory—Patterson should be remembered forever.
But, of course, he isn’t.
2. Ernesto Marcel
Ernesto “Ñato” Marcel was a phenomenal boxer, one of the greatest featherweights of all time.
What he accomplished in just 46 fights is breathtaking.
Marcel made his professional debut about a month shy of his 18th birthday weighing in at just 115 pounds. By 1969 he had grown into a featherweight. That same year he knocked out the skilled Bernardo Caraballo in just two rounds.
Marcel’s next big fight was with the one and only “Hands of Stone” Roberto Duran.
Showcasing just how great he was, Marcel made the fight competitive all the way through. It was an evenly-contested matchup with a slight edge, if any, going to Duran. But in an abrupt turn of events, the referee insolubly waved off the fight early into the 10th and final round.
It is, of course, recorded as a TKO loss on Marcel’s record—but this fight should never have been stopped.
(Go to 10:30 of this video to see for yourself.)
Unfazed, Marcel would win his next seven fights before obtaining a fight with No.1 featherweight in the world, Kuniako Shibata.
In a highly-controversial affair in Japan, Marcel would have to settle for an official draw against Shibata. Marcel clearly outclassed his Japanese opponent, especially after the 10th round where he utilized his reach advantage and an exquisite two-fisted attack to establish himself as the best featherweight in the world.
On August 19, 1972 Marcel faced off with WBA featherweight champion Antonio Gomez. In their first encounter, Marcel outpointed Gomez over 15 rounds.
Now the WBA champion, Marcel defended his title four times—against Enrique Garcia, Antonio Gomez (again), Spider Nemoto and the Hall of Famer Alexis Arguello.
But after his victory over Arguello, aged just 26, Marcel retired from boxing.
Marcel, having never legitimately been stopped and one of the sport’s most fascinating stylists—in puzzling fashion—walks away forever.
To this day, why, still remains unknown.
1. Matt Wells
Matt Wells is on a long list of forgotten English champions. During his heyday, he was revered as one of the best lightweight and welterweights.
He had outstanding durability and had no trouble fighting long distances.
Wells made his professional debut in November, 1909 and just 16 fights later would find himself fighting the Hall of Famer Freddie Welsh for the British lightweight title.
On February 27, 1911 Wells outpointed “The Welsh Wizard” over 20 rounds.
Just four months later, he easily defeated the highly-touted Leach Cross, utilizing a stinging left hand that met Cross’ face pitilessly—puffing up his lip and nearly swelling both his eyes shut.
“The punishment inflicted upon Cross was more than he had ever received,” said the Indianapolis Star June 3, 1911.
Within the next four months, and with victories over serviceable men Philadelphia Pal Moore and Knockout Brown and featherweight champion Abe Attell, Wells undoubtedly had an even deeper résumé than lightweight champion at the time, Ad Wolgast.
Wolgast was a highly protected fighter. Even though he was technically the champion of the world, he had twice lost to Brown and his only wins of note were Battling Nelson (two times) and Owen Moran.
Ever since his victories over Welsh and Cross, Wells was the "logical opponent for Wolgast,” (Anaconda Standard October 22, 1911).
And, in hindsight, Wells was already the best lightweight in the world since defeating Cross in June, 1911 as Wolgast would later go 0-3 versus Welsh and 0-2 against Cross.
But, for one reason or another, Wells was never able to fight Wolgast for the world lightweight title.
Wells would go on to fight the great Packey McFarland, Welsh once more and defeated notable fighters Owen Moran and Ray Bronson before moving up to welterweight.
On March 21, 1914 Wells would fight Tom McCormick for the world welterweight title and defeated him over 20 rounds. But by late 1915, he was decidedly past his prime and he would suffer an empty 17 defeats from 1916 until his retirement in 1922.
Over the course of his remarkable career, Wells picked up British and European titles at lightweight and welterweight and won the world welterweight title. And with a core group of wins over Cross, Moran, Bronson, McCormick, Charley White (two times), Eddie Murphy, Hughie Mehegan, Gus Platts and Hall of Famers Welsh and Attell, he has a far deeper résumé than Wolgast.
And if Wolgast features in Boxing News and Bert Sugar’s top-100 greatest fighters of all time—why in the world isn’t Matt Wells even in the Hall of Fame?
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