Ranking the 10 Most Impressive Winning Streaks in Boxing History
In the final week or so left before Floyd Mayweather faces Saul Alvarez, expect to hear the pound-for-pound king and his many fans repeat a common refrain: "Men lie and women lie, but numbers don't lie."
It's got a catchy ring to it, but that doesn't mean it isn't hooey. Of course, numbers don't lie. But like any facts, they can be employed to create misleading arguments.
Just the same, Mayweather's 44-fight winning streak is a major accomplishment in the sport's history.
Other impressive winning streaks didn't quite make the cut for me. Joe Calzaghe's 46-0 record will get him into the Hall of Fame. But his quality of opposition doesn't meet the level of those I've rated ahead of him here.
Ricardo Lopez, similarly, just misses the top 10. He was a dazzling fighter, and you can't argue with 51-0-1. But the quality of opposition at 105 and 108 pounds just isn't the same as it is in the higher weight classes.
Larry Holmes just might be the most underrated heavyweight champion of all time. It's a natural consequence of following Muhammad Ali, the greatest heavyweight of all time, and preceding Mike Tyson, who was among the most exciting.
But Holmes ruled the heavyweight division for an entire era. When he beat Ken Norton for the vacant WBC belt in June 1978, I was finishing first grade. When he dropped the title to Michael Spinks in September 1985, I was in high school.
Along the way he ran his record to 48-0, just one win short of Rocky Marciano's 49-0. In my opinion, he deserved to win against Spinks, and he was criminally robbed in their rematch.
A highly skilled boxing technician, Holmes campaigned at a high level well past age 40.
In the same way that Floyd Mayweather partisans will argue that he is the greatest of all time because he is undefeated, fans will occasionally try to claim Rocky Marciano is the greatest heavyweight ever because he retired undefeated.
But that is simplistic thinking. Marciano fought a relatively low level of competition for a dominant heavyweight champion. His best wins were against a past-his-prime Ezzard Charles and just-plain-old Joe Walcott, Joe Louis and Archie Moore.
Marciano started late in the sport and was developed slowly and with caution. Even after he beat Louis, one of his next fights was against well-traveled journeyman Lee Savold, whom Louis had stopped the previous year.
But 49-0 is 49-0. And Charles, Walcott, Louis and Moore are all-time greats and were still dangerous when Marciano beat them.
One thing is certain: His winning streak is among the most exciting of all time.
On numerous occasions, the Rock was on the brink of defeat, only to have his immortal right hand, sublimely nicknamed "Suzie Q," grab victory from the jaws of defeat with sudden violence.
I didn't include Joe Calzaghe or Ricardo Lopez, but I did include a Welshman and a 108-pound fighter. Before losing to Tancy Lee in January 1915, Jimmy Wilde had run his professional record to 93-0-1.
Wilde was the flyweight champion of the world during his long undefeated run and remained so for years after losing to Lee by Round 17 TKO. As was common for the era, Wilde routinely fought and beat larger men.
Wilde weighed in at 108 against Lee and gave up about 10 pounds, which is a significant percentage of body weight for fighters that size.
Roberto Duran has the shortest unbeaten streak on this list. Between losing to Esteban De Jesus in November 1972 and his infamous "No Mas" fight against Sugar Ray Leonard in November 1980, Duran won 41 straight fights.
During those 41 fights, "El Manos De Piedre" established himself as arguably the greatest lightweight in boxing history.
He was the most dominant pound-for-pound fighter of the 1970s and then moved up to welterweight and beat Sugar Ray Leonard, who is an all-time top-fiver there.
Floyd Mayweather Jr.
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Compared to some of the fighters on this list, Floyd Mayweather's 44-0 record doesn't make the eyes bulge. But in today's era, fighters just don't fight as often.
But the percentage of high-quality opponents fought during his streak is as good or better than that in the longer streaks compiled by some of the fighters of previous eras.
I am glad that modern fighters can earn enough money to not risk their health fighting as often as the boxers from earlier eras. But that doesn't mean I don't give more credit to a fighter like Sugar Ray Robinson, who was fighting an extra dozen journeymen a year to make some extra bread.
Those were still professional fights that took a serious toll on the body year after year. A great fighter can get banged up worse sometimes against a C-level masher, even if he does win with relative ease.
On the other hand, the stress of managing a promotion to the degree that Mayweather does twice a year is a different kind of challenge. And plenty of talented fighters have managed to fall apart in a lot less time than has passed while Mayweather has been compiling his streak.
And at the end of the day, winning 44 straight fights at the world championship level is a rare accomplishment, no matter who you are.
Harry Greb is the most mythical figure on this list. As far as I know, there is virtually no footage of him fighting.
But he was the dominant middleweight champion of his era and fought multiple times a month, so countless journalists and historians recorded the argument among his contemporaries for Greb's status as the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of their time.
In written description, "The Pittsburgh Windmill" always sounds something like the middleweight version of Jack Dempsey, and he was the only fighter to ever beat Dempsey's conqueror, Gene Tunney.
Between Greb's May 1920 loss to Tommy Gibbons and his February 1923 loss to Gene Tunney, he won at least 50 straight fights.
Carlos Monzon lost three fights early in his career while still competing at the club level in Argentina. But after falling to 16-3 in October 1964, Monzon never lost again.
By the time Monzon hit the world-class level, he had developed into a dominating fighter. He became a major superstar in South America and a highly regarded champion around the world.
Monzon had gone unbeaten in more than 80 fights when he retired as the undisputed champion in 1977.
Julio Cesar Chavez
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This is not an all-time, pound-for-pound list. I would never rank Julio Cesar Chavez this high if it were. He's behind Pernell Whitaker, for starters.
But when ranking winning streaks, they don't get much better than Julio Cesar Chavez's.
The dominant, three-division world champion ran his record to 87-0—if you count when he actually got beaten for the first time, against Pernell Whitaker—or to 89-0-1, before losing to Frankie Randall, if you recognize the draw as legitimate.
Where Canelo Alvarez is right now going into the biggest fight of the year for 2013, he's still only about halfway to "JC Superstar."
Willie Pep started his career with a 62-0 record before losing his first professional fight to Sammy Angott in March 1943.
But that's not even the winning streak that gets "Willow-the-Wisp" on this list. Between losing to Angott and Sandy Saddler in October 1948, Pep went 72-0-1 and established himself as arguably the greatest featherweight of all time.
During that winning streak, he also suffered a serious injury in a plane crash. And he still came back to beat Saddler once in a rematch.
Perhaps the greatest defensive fighter of all time, Pep was able to continue winning fights until well past age 40.
Sugar Ray Robinson
By most historical counts, Joe Louis is reckoned as the top boxer of the 1940s. That's the way it is when you are the dominant heavyweight champion of the world.
But based on what was accomplished in the ring, Sugar Ray Robinson was probably the fighter of the decade for the 1940s. He was probably the fighter of the decade for the 1950s, too.
His best unbeaten streak spanned both decades. After starting his career 40-0, Robinson suffered his first loss against the Bronx Bull, Jake LaMotta, in February 1943.
After that, he won 88 fights without a loss before getting upset by Randy Turpin in July 1951. During that streak, Robinson collected first the welterweight and then the middleweight world titles.
After suffering his second loss against Turpin, Robinson came back two months later and knocked the Englishman out in the rematch.
Robinson started 1952 by beating Bobo Olson by decision in March and then knocking out Rocky Graziano a month later in April.
In June 1952, he collapsed in the 104-degree heat in Yankee Stadium against light heavyweight world champion Joey Maxim, in a fight where he was far ahead on the cards.
That's the stuff a pound-for-pound resume is made of.