Ranking the 10 Best Fighters in Boxing History from the United Kingdom
Few countries have contributed more to the rich history of boxing than the United Kingdom. From 17th-century pioneers like James Figg and Jack Broughton to early gloved-era champion Robert Fitzsimmons to modern stars like Naseem Hamed and Ricky Hatton, U.K. fighters have always played an important part on the international scene.
The rules themselves of the sport we love derive from the Marquess of Queensberry rules of the 1860s. To this day, the domestic boxing scene on the British Isles continues to flourish.
To select my list I have chosen only from fighters of the gloved era. There are at least a few major names who ended up omitted, but that merely speaks to the depth of the nation's boxing tradition.
10. Naseem Hamed
There is no debate over the fact that Naseem Hamed was among the most exciting boxing stars of the 1990s. The flashy and agile "Prince" had an unorthodox style and one of the most powerful punches in the history of the featherweight division.
But Hamed was thoroughly outclassed in his only fight against a true all-time great, Marco Antonio Barrera. Depending upon which boxing fan you talk to, you might hear Hamed praised as a true legend, or scoffed at with derision.
Fairness has to come down somewhere in between. Hamed successfully defended the WBO featherweight title 15 times and held the IBF and WBC versions of the belt for brief periods of time. He recorded wins over very solid fighters in Wilfredo Vazquez, Cesar Soto, Manuel Medina and Kevin Kelley, among others.
For his career Hamed was 36-1 with 31 KOs.
9. John Conteh
Liverpool native John Conteh ascended to true Merseyside royalty in 1973, appearing on the cover of Paul McCartney's "Band on the Run" album. The following year he became boxing royalty, as well, capturing the vacant WBC light heavyweight championship by beating Jorge Victor Ahumada.
Conteh held the title for nearly four years and was considered one of the sport's top pound-for-pound stars, good enough to be mentioned as a possible opponent for heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. At his peak he was a fixture in fashionable night clubs and on the back pages of the tabloids.
Conteh's top wins include two victories over fellow Brit Chris Finnegan and a unanimous decision of Yaqui Lopez.
8. Ricky Hatton
Ricky Hatton is one of the biggest boxing stars of the past decade, and the rabid support of his Manchester fanbase helped turn his fights with Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao into two of the most memorable boxing events of this century.
Unfortunately, both of those fights ended in stoppage losses for Hatton.
But even if Hatton was a solid step below the pound-for-pound best, he was still a terrific fighter. The two-division world champion was 45-3 for his career with 32 KOs.
His signature win was a Round 11 TKO of Hall of Famer Kostya Tszyu in 2005. Other notable wins include an aging Jose Luis Castillo, a young Luis Collazo and a prime Paulie Malignaggi.
7. Ted "Kid" Lewis
Known as "The Aldgate Sphinx," Ted "Kid" Lewis was a participant in one of the greatest rivalries in the history of boxing. Between 1915 and 1921 he fought Jack Britton an astonishing 20 times. More often than not, the world welterweight title was at stake.
They fought three times in June 1917 alone.
Lewis was 7-9-4 against his greatest rival, but to wear championship gold in that era marked a fighter as truly elite. Lewis also fought to a draw with the great "Ghetto Wizard" Benny Leonard, one of the two best lightweights in the history of the sport.
6. Randy Turpin
Randy Turpin's life ended in tragedy, as he committed suicide in 1966. His early years were marked by difficulty, as well.
As related on Boxrec, Turpin was the son of the first black man to live in Leamington, England. His father died when Turpin was an infant, from complications related to being gassed at the Somme during World War I.
But Turpin grew up in a boxing family and "The Leamington Licker" would become among his nation's greatest pugilist stars. In July 1951, he ascended to the very top of the boxing world, as he handed all-time pound-for-pound great Sugar Ray Robinson just his second loss in 132 fights, capturing the world middleweight title in the process.
Turpin was knocked out in the rematch two months later. But to have beaten Robinson at all during this point of his career took a remarkable fighter.
5. Joe Calzaghe
Welshman Joe Calzaghe is one of the few champions in boxing history to retire with an undefeated record. At various times he held all of the alphabet soup titles at super middleweight and retired as The Ring light heavyweight champion.
Calzaghe receives some fair criticism for the quality of his opposition. The two best names on his resume are Roy Jones Jr. and Bernard Hopkins, who were 39 and 43, respectively, when he beat them. And against Hopkins he escaped with a very close split decision.
Still, Calzaghe was unquestionably a great fighter. He also beat Mikkel Kessler, Chris Eubanks and Sakio Bika, among others.
To stay undefeated as long as he did at the championship level takes a special fighter.
4. Lennox Lewis
Lennox Lewis spent his teenage years in Canada and represented them in the 1988 Olympics. But he was born in London and was much more closely associated with the United Kingdom than Canada during his professional career.
Lewis deserves to be regarded as the top heavyweight boxer of the 1990s, which trails only the 1970s as the greatest decade in the history of the heavyweight division. He held versions of the title for most of 10 years.
Lewis was vulnerable to getting caught, as he showed in knockout losses to Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman. But he repaid both of those losses with knockouts and beat the best heavyweights of his era.
Lewis retired at the top in 2003, after stopping Vitali Klitschko on cuts in a six-round war.
3. Ken Buchanan
Ken Buchanan was the undisputed lightweight champion of the world in the early 1970s. To some degree, I would contend that Buchanan's greatness has been somewhat eclipsed by the gigantic presence of Roberto Duran, one of history's two greatest lightweights, who beat Buchanan by controversial Round 13 TKO in 1972.
The slick Scotsman was trained by all-time great Gill Clancy. Buchanan had impeccable footwork. He was a counter-puncher who controlled distance expertly.
In nearly any other era of the lightweight division, Buchanan would likely have enjoyed a long and dominant run at the top.
2. Jimmy Wilde
Known as "The Mighty Atom," Welshman Jimmy Wilde is among the most devastating pound-for-pound punchers of all time. Wilde fought in an era when weight classes were far less important, and at just 108 pounds, he had little choice but to fight larger men, anyway.
The 5'2" Wilde made his living knocking out bigger men. For his career, he stopped 99 opponents.
Although Wilde retired over 90 years ago, he still has a strong argument as the greatest flyweight in history.
1. Bob Fitzsimmons
Bob Fitzsimmons moved to New Zealand as a child and launched his boxing career in earnest in the United States. But he was born in Cornwall, and according to sources like Nat Fleischer's The Heavyweight Championship, he continued to identify as Cornish throughout his life, so it only seems fair that the U.K. should get at least a partial claim to this legend of the early gloved era.
Fitzsimmons was a lanky blacksmith by trade, and his hours pounding away at the forge no doubt contributed to his monster punching power. But "Ruby Robert" was among the most devastating pound-for-pound punchers in history, and power like that can only be given by God.
In 1891 Fitzsimmons thoroughly starched fellow Hall of Famer "Nonpariel" Jack Dempsey to capture the world middleweight title. In 1897 he knocked out another Hall of Famer, James Corbett, to become the third heavyweight champion of the gloved era.
Fitzsimmons dropped the heavyweight title in 1899 to James Jeffries, an explosive athlete who outweighed him by nearly 50 pounds. In 1903, at age 40, Fitzsimmons captured the world light heavyweight title to become boxing's first three-division world champion.