Ranking the Biggest Punchers in Light Heavyweight History

Briggs Seekins@BriggsfighttalkFeatured ColumnistJuly 31, 2014

Ranking the Biggest Punchers in Light Heavyweight History

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    TIM LARSEN/Associated Press

    Sergey Kovalev defends his WBO light heavyweight title against Blake Caparello in Atlantic City this weekend and boxing fans and writers have been buzzing about it all week. Fighters who can punch like Kovalev get the boxing public excited.

    Bleacher Report's own Kelsey McCarson couldn't even resist making up jokes for twitter:

    A horse walks into a bar. Bartender says "Why the long face?". Then Kovalev comes in and punches everyone until they bleed, even the horse.

    — Kelsey McCarson (@KelseyMcCarson) July 30, 2014

    While the Russian knockout machine still has a way to go before he joins the division's all-time elite, there should be no doubt in anybody's mind that he's one of the biggest punchers ever at 175 pounds. But light heavyweight was one of the original eight divisions, so there's a long history there.

    These are the top light heavyweight punchers in boxing history.

10. Billy Fox

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    Perhaps there should be an asterisk next to Billy Fox's name on this list. Controversy surrounds the record of the big-punching light heavyweight.

    The Boxrec entry on Fox quotes a study by boxing historian Herbert Goldman that determined Fox's early record had been padded with non-existent fights that never actually occurred. Furthermore, Fox is the fighter that Hall of Famer Jake LaMotta admitted to having taken a dive against in order to secure a shot at the middleweight title.

    So at least one of Fox's stoppages wasn't actually legit. And it's tough to believe that the only time an opponent took a dive for Fox, the opponent ended up testifying about it before Congress.

    Still, 47 of Fox's 48 victories came within the distance. His stats may have been swelled by shenanigans, but it does appear that "Black Jack" could legitimately bang.

9. Tommy Gibbons

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    The younger and larger of the two Hall of Fame Gibbons brothers, Tommy Gibbons was the only man to ever last 15 rounds with the great Jack Dempsey. He had a rugged chin and outstanding boxing technique.

    And he could punch a little bit, too, as is clear from the fact that he won 48 of his 62 official decisions via stoppage.

    Gibbons held a victory over the great Harry Greb and knocked out Kid Norfolk. He earned a "newspaper decision" over then light heavyweight champion Battling Levinsky. In his final bout, Gibbons was stopped by Gene Tunney in 12.

8. Adonis Stevenson

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    Along with Sergey Kovalev, Adonis Stevenson has brought renewed interest to the light heavyweight division since the start of 2013, primarily because of the electrifying nature of his punching. So far in his career, Stevenson has knocked out 20-of-25 opponents for a career rate of 80 percent.

    Stevenson went on a knockout binge in 2013, stopping all four opponents he faced. The highlight of his year came in June when he captured the lineal and WBC light heavyweight championships with his one-punch, Round 1 KO of Chad Dawson.

    It was one of the most dramatic championship KOs in light heavyweight history. Stevenson has yet to earn a spot in the top 25 all time at 175 pounds.

    But as a pure puncher, he's in the top tier.

7. Marvin Johnson

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    A champion during the light heavyweight golden era of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Marvin Johnson was a bronze medalist at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. He was a good technical boxer with a big punch, knocking out over 70 percent of his opponents in his career.

    Johnson's greatest knockout was a 1979, Round 11 KO of the rugged Victor Galindez, with a perfectly placed punch.

    Johnson's own chin may have been his downfall. Five of his six losses came by stoppage, including twice to Matthew Saad Muhammad and once each to Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and Michael Spinks.

6. Matthew Saad Muhammad

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    Another light heavyweight champion from one of the division's golden eras, Matthew Saad Muhammad participated in some of the most exciting bouts of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Abandoned as a child, Muhammad was a hard-knocks fighter who had just 20 amateur fights before turning professional.

    He fought with an aggressive, all-action style that compensated in large part for his lack of formal training. Among the champions he stopped were John Conteh, Richie Kates, Marvin Johnson (twice) and Yaqui Lopez (twice).

    His second fight with Lopez, a Round 14 TKO, was The Ring's choice for Fight of the Year in 1980.

5. Michael Spinks

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    A gold medalist, along with his older brother Leon, as part of the legendary 1976 Olympic team, Michael Spinks was the best light heavyweight in the world during one of the division's greatest eras. In the prime of his career, Spinks sported a very high KO percentage, thanks to his right hand, nicknamed "The Spinks Jinx."

    An imposing physical presence at 175 pounds, Spinks had stoppages over champions Marvin Johnson and Yaqui Lopez. He won 15-round wars with Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and Matthew Saad Muhammad. For his career, Spinks was undefeated at light heavyweight.

    Spinks jumped to heavyweight and captured the title from the great Larry Holmes, then successfully defended it in a rematch. I personally feel Holmes deserved to win both those fights, with the second one being a particularly egregious decision.

    Still, Spinks does deserve credit for changing up his physical style to campaign successfully against the big men.

    It's a shame that a fighter as great is Spinks is primarily remembered today for getting blown out in 91 seconds by Mike Tyson.

4. Sergey Kovalev

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    WBO light heavyweight champion Sergey Kovalev still has a lot of work to do before he will rank up alongside such light heavyweight greats as Billy Conn, Joey Maxim and Maxie Rosenbloom. But his power punching has already become legendary. 

    Kovalev is a two-fisted human wrecking ball. His power influences every second of his fights, making his opponents cautious from the first round on. In his career to date, he has knocked out 22-of-25 opponents.

    He has a technical draw that occurred because his opponent was unable to continue following an accidental foul in Round 2. He has two decisions of six and eight rounds.

    In his last fight, Kovalev knocked out undefeated Cedric Agnew with a jab to the body.

    It still remains to be seen if Kovalev will develop into a Hall of Famer. I'm betting that he will.

    But even if he doesn't, he'll go down as one of the hardest 175-pound punchers of all time.


3. Bob Fitzsimmons

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    The smallest heavyweight champion of the gloved era, Bob Fitzsimmons is unquestionably among the most powerful pound-for-pound punchers of all time. A blacksmith by trade, he honed his great punching power hammering iron over a hot forge. 

    Already a dominant middleweight champion, in 1897, Fitzsimmons knocked out the great "Gentleman" Jim Corbett to become the heavyweight champion. No middleweight champion would duplicate his feat until over a hundred years later, when Roy Jones Jr. won the WBA portion of the heavyweight crown from John Ruiz. 

    Fitzsimmons lost the belt in 1899 to James J. Jeffries, a great athlete who outweighed him by close to 50 pounds. But in 1903, a 40-year-old Fitzsimmons captured the light heavyweight crown to become boxing's first three-division world champion. 


2. Bob Foster

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    Bob Foster was a tall, lanky fighter with thunderous power in both hands. Standing 6'3", he campaigned frequently at heavyweight, always coming up short against the big stars of his day such as Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Ernie Terrell and Zora Folley.

    But at 175, he dominated his era and ranks among the very best of all time. In 1968, he captured the world title by knocking out the great Dick Tiger in four rounds. He reigned as the undisputed champion for over six years, until retiring in 1974. 

    Like many great stars, Foster returned for an inconsequential comeback in 1975 and campaigned against second- and third-tier competition for three years before ending his career with two regrettable losses. 

1. Archie Moore

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    Perhaps no boxer in history has had a more remarkable career than "The Old Mongoose" Archie Moore. He turned pro the year after Joe Louis debuted, and yet his career stretched all the way the dawn of the Muhammad Ali era. 

    Moore had been fighting nearly 20 years when he finally had the opportunity to win the light heavyweight title in 1952. He would hold onto it for the next decade, while frequently campaigning at the top of the heavyweight division, as well. 

    Moore was a brilliant tactical fighter with great power that he seemed unable to unleash when he needed it most. His 131 career knockouts are a record for professional fighters of the modern era.