Ranking the 10 Greatest Boxers of the 1990s
It was the 1990s. Unless you were a laid-off manufacturing worker in the United States or a displaced Campesino in Mexico, the economy seemed to be firing on all cylinders. Military intervention was still sporadic and rare enough that middle-class Americans could usually completely ignore it.
It was the best of the 1950s and the 1960s combined. Hip hop was yet to be commercialized, for the most part. In rock and roll, anybody who mattered was ripping off Neil Young, which made for a mini golden age.
And it was a terrific era for boxing. The heavyweight division was still high profile and contained a deep roster of talent.
The sport was full of great fighters from the lightest weight classes up. So much so that to narrow down a list to just 10 required leaving off fighters who are Hall of Famers and among the all-time best in their divisions.
10. Evander Holyfield
By the time the 1990s began, Evander Holyfield had already established himself as possibly the greatest cruiserweight of all time and had engaged in a legendary war with Dwight Muhammad Qawi.
But by the time 1990 was over, Holyfield had captured the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world by stopping Buster Douglas, the man who had shocked the world by knocking out Mike Tyson in Tokyo in February of that year.
Holyfield vs. Tyson was the fight everybody was looking forward to as 1991 began, but in July of 1991, Tyson was arrested for rape. He ended up serving four years in prison, and the fight with Holyfield didn't occur until November 1996.
When it did happen, Holyfield surprised a lot of fans by bullying Tyson on the inside and beating him up before winning by an 11th-round TKO.
In the rematch, Holyfield again employed the same aggressive, head-first tactics as in the first fight. Tyson quickly lost his composure and twice bit Holyfield's ear in one of the sport's most unfortunate moments in recent decades.
9. Felix Trinidad
During the 1990s, Felix Trinidad made a dominant run as the IBF welterweight champ, establishing himself as one of the most popular stars in the sport.
Among the fighters he beat were Hector Camacho and Pernell Whitaker. He beat Oscar De La Hoya in a WBC/IBF unification bout in one of the most hotly contested decisions of the past 25 years.
Trinidad was a dangerous, two-fisted puncher. He applied pressure relentlessly and had killer finishing instincts.
In addition to his punching power, Trinidad had a lot of physical strength at welterweight. He would make for an interesting matchup to consider with any of the all-time greats at 147.
8. Lennox Lewis
Lennox Lewis was the top heavyweight in one of history's best decades for heavyweights. He lost a single fight during the decade, to Oliver McCall, when he got caught and knocked out in the second round. He won the rematch by stoppage in Round 5.
Lewis won a version of the title in 1992 and routinely beat tough contenders in decisive fashion. Among the fighters he beat during the decade were Donovan "Razor" Ruddock, Ray Mercer, Tommy Morrison and Shannon Briggs.
In March 1999, Lewis finally got the chance to fight the decade's other top heavyweight, Evander Holyfield. Lewis came away with a draw, but clearly deserved to win. It was one of the two or three worst decisions of the decade.
Lewis won the rematch the following November.
7. Oscar De La Hoya
Oscar De La Hoya was the last of a breed for boxing in the United States: An Olympic star who entered the professional game with a tremendous amount of anticipation and buzz. The "Golden Boy" grabbed the spotlight in Barcelona in 1992 and never gave it up.
By March 1994, he was the WBO super featherweight champion, and by July of the same year he had moved up to lightweight to capture the WBO title from Jorge Paez.
De La Hoya beat an impressive group of challengers defending the lightweight belt, including Rafael Ruelas and Genaro Hernandez.
In June 1996, De La Hoya moved up to junior welterweight and captured the WBC 140-pound belt by stopping the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez on cuts in four. He moved up to welterweight and beat another pound-for-pound legend, Pernell Whitaker, in April 1997.
De La Hoya gave Ike Quartey his first professional loss in February of 1999. The following September De La Hoya suffered his own first loss, against Felix Trinidad, by a still hotly debated decision.
6. Shane Mosley
Although many of his most high-profile fights occurred during the first decade of this century, at welterweight and light middleweight during the 1990s, Shane Mosley compiled a resume that earns him consideration for the greatest lightweight of all time.
Mosley was a large, powerful lightweight, and eventually outgrew the weight class. He had enough power to carry it up to 147 and 154, so he was often over-powering at 135.
5. James Toney
James Toney was among the greatest boxers of the 1990s. The most amazing thing about him is that it seems possible he might have been greater.
In May 1991, Toney exploded onto the scene by knocking out IBF champion Michael Nunn while trailing on the cards. In 1993, he moved up to super middleweight and stopped Iran Barkley in nine for the IBF title.
Toney lost his title to Roy Jones Jr. in November 1994, then lost his next fight to Montell Griffin, at light heavyweight, in February 1995.
Toney fought a few more times at light heavyweight, but since the mid-90s, he has largely competed at crusierweight and above. Although he was weighing in at least twenty pounds above his ideal fighting weight, Toney spent the second half of the 1990s building a convincing argument that he is the best cruiserweight of all time.
4. Ricardo Lopez
Determining exactly where to rate Ricardo Lopez is a bit of a challenge. He spent his entire career at 105 and 108 pounds, and the number of top-quality opponents is simply smaller there than it is at higher weight classes.
And Lopez never fought the other two best light flyweights of his era, Michael Carbajal and Humberto Gonzalez. Wins over those two fighters would elevate the quality of his case.
But based on his perfect record and the eye-ball test, Lopez has to rank high on any list of the best fighters of the 1990s. A student of Hall-of-Fame trainer Nacho Beristain, Lopez was a near-perfect boxer in terms of execution in the ring.
3. Pernell Whitaker
Pernell Whitaker started the decade of the 1990s as the reigning IBF and WBC lightweight champion. Before the end of 1990, he had added the WBA strap and was the undisputed 135-pound champion.
During the 1990s, Pernell Whitaker built a case for himself as an all-time great at both lightweight and welterweight. He also won world titles at 140 and 154 pounds.
Whitaker is on anybody's short list for the greatest defensive fighter of all time. He used his dazzling defensive skills to dominate fights.
Whitaker lost in 1997 to Oscar De La Hoya and in 1999 to Felix Trinidad. Whitaker turned professional in 1984, and by the end of the 1990s, he had lost a step. But his performance over the first half of the decade earns him a spot this high on my list.
2. Bernard Hopkins
Amazingly, at 48, Bernard Hopkins currently finds himself at the top of most ratings at 175 pounds. The IBF light heavyweight champion will defend his belt against Karo Murat next month.
But a generation ago, during the 1990s, Hopkins was busy establishing himself as one of the top middleweight champions of all time.
Hopkins lost just once during the decade, to Roy Jones Jr. An extremely focused and disciplined individual, Hopkins got arguably better as the 1990s went along, even as he approached 40.
1. Roy Jones Jr.
Like Bernard Hopkins, Roy Jones Jr. has insisted on continuing to campaign into the latter half of his 40s. Unfortunately, he has not met with the same success.
But back in the day, Roy Jones Jr. turned in some of the most electrifying performances in the history of the sport. Jones' athletic advantages allowed him to dominate fights with an aesthetic flair rarely accomplished.
Jones turned professional following the 1988 Seoul Olympics, where he suffered the worst judging decision in the history of boxing, amateur or professional. In May 1993, he beat Bernard Hopkins for the vacant IBF middleweight title.
In November 1994, Jones went up to super middleweight and captured the IBF belt from James Toney. By the end of the decade, Jones would reign as the IBF, WBA and WBC light heavyweight champion.
For the entire decade, Jones lost just once, by DQ to Montell Griffin in 1997. Jones won the rematch by first-round KO.